Why the airplane romance that went viral should worry everyone

Last week, a woman named Helen (she asked that her last name not be published, for reasons that will soon be clear to anybody who favors privacy over virally inflicted fame) got on a plane in New York, heading for Texas, and left her privacy on the tarmac.

It all began when a lady with a sweet Southern drawl asked to switch seats so she could sit next to her boyfriend.

Sure. Good deed for the day, Helen must have thought. Why not?

So Helen swapped seats and wound up sitting next to an attractive guy with whom she shared conversation, including showing each other family photos on their cell phones.

I know this, and the internet knows this, because along with her boyfriend, the woman who made the request – her name is Rosey Blair – sat in the row behind Helen, whose privacy the couple was about to roto-rooter.

Blair and her boyfriend, Houston Hardaway, began to chronicle – and publicly post, through photos, videos and commentary – Every. Single. Move. Those. Two. People. Made. …And to interpret every one of those moves, slathering their own alternatively romantic/lascivious storyline onto the interactions of two people they’d never met and whose motivations they could only guess at, like so much sweetened-lard frosting on a cardiac-arrest wedding cake.


If you don’t feel like reading through the entire, gut-churningly invasive, privacy-spurning soap opera of tweets they posted, which racked up hundreds of thousands of retweets, comments and likes from all the other utter strangers who posted their open-mouthed “FOLLOWING!” fascination, the spying/doxxing saga basically goes along the lines of “Are you talking to the guy you sat next to? What, you’re both fitness gurus?! OMG, heart-heart-heart, he’s HOTTTTTTTTT!!! Hey, your hair was up, but then you let your hair down when you went to the bathroom!! Look: they’re touching elbows!!! Is this going to lead to love? Marriage? Acceptance into the mile-high club?!!!”

This is the age we live in: Mr. and Ms. Anybody With A Smart Phone consider it their God-given right to conduct surveillance on anybody they want to, including eavesdropping and doxxing, as in, public dissemination of the surveillance footage without permission, simply because they’ve spun their own little fairytale outcome, want to play private eye, and have the surveillance equipment to cook up their trail of clues …all this, over a potential hookup on an airplane.

Blair continued to buy WiFi time to keep the saga going during the flight. The likes, shares and comments ticked ever upward. We soon found out the identity of hot-guy seatmate: it turned out to be Euan Holden, a personal trainer who laughed it off when Blair sent him the Tweet thread she published last week.

Holden obviously didn’t mind having his privacy invaded in this fashion. In fact, he, Blair and Hardaway made an appearance on NBC’s TODAY TV show to talk about the “Modern fairy tale,” the “Matchmaker passengers who detailed viral airplane love story” and “just how this budding romance unfolded.”

As TODAY reported, more than three-quarters of a million people fell in love with the saga of these purported lovebirds.


You might notice a hole in this story. You might notice that it’s a Cinderella story, in fact, with the internet searching for the pretty girl who wore the crystal airbuds or something like that. Helen has chosen not to go public and, for the most part, but, unfortunately, not entirely, hasn’t been identified.

That hasn’t kept Blair from posting a video saying that she and Hardaway don’t have Helen’s “permish” – “Not YET, y’all!” Here they are, waving their fingers about that:


But pretty clearly goading their followers on to find out Helen’s identity:

You guys are sneaky. I think you might…

“Don’t encourage them,” Blair’s boyfriend admonishes her, but that’s a bit too little and a whole lot too late.

While Blair did obscure Helen’s face, it wasn’t particularly good obfuscation. In fact, in short order, Helen was reportedly tracked down and harassed when people discovered her identity, posting onto her personal Instagram feed:

Lol you blew that guy in the bathroom. Skank


Helen can thank Blair for that crass attack: she implied that she and Holden had sex in the bathroom when they both got out of their seats at the same time.

Ella Dawson, a journalist who accidentally, unwillingly stumbled into viral fame herself early in her career when she wrote a post about the difficulties of dating with genital herpes, has written an essay about the Love In The Air Spying Affair that’s scathingly on-point about how the ongoing division between private and public has been steadily eroding for some time now. As she puts it:

None of this was her doing, her choice. No one asked her if she had any reservations or concerns about being made part of a modern romantic comedy. All she did was board a plane and chat with her seatmate. Now she is a public figure, a hashtag, a target. Millions of strangers on the internet want to know about her new fictional relationship. No one understands why she is so afraid. Or maybe she isn’t afraid. How could I know? I don’t know this woman either.

Maybe Helen isn’t afraid. Maybe she is. Maybe she’s withdrawn from social media altogether, as some on Twitter say. Who could blame her if she had, given attacks like that one scrawled on her Instagram photo? Or maybe she’s “slowly coming out of her shell,” as others say. Maybe the couple will date more. Maybe they’ll get married and have babies. Maybe they’ll move to Hollywood and get cast in a rom-com. Maybe they’ll sue Blair for illegal surveillance.

Who cares? And whose business is it, anyway?

Apparently, much of the internet thinks it’s very much their business. Welcome to the future, citizen, where you don’t have to worry whether the National Security Agency or FBI or CIA or local police are running surveillance so they can analyze your every move: instead, the work has been assumed by anybody with a gadget in their hand.