Kat Pitman was settling into her aisle seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Louisville to Chicago Friday morning, texting her husband, when her iPhone buzzed.
She looked down to see an AirDrop request. Someone whose name she didn’t recognize was sending her a pornographic image.
“It was just very explicit. It just shocked me,” the 40-year-old frequent flyer said in an interview with USA TODAY.
Pitman immediately turned off AirDrop, an Apple feature that allows people to wirelessly send photos, videos and documents to nearby phones and computers using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but quickly turned it back on to take a screenshot of the sender’s name. She instantly received two more AirDrop requests, with a video and another graphic photo.
The sender’s name? A NSFW take on Bilbo Baggins from “The Hobbit.”
The 9:05 a.m. flight was still boarding so Pitman decided to show her phone to two Southwest flight attendants at the front of the plane. It was only an hour-long flight but she worried the sender might be in her row, and that made her uncomfortable.
Pitman’s first words to the flight attendants: “I know this sounds crazy…”
She showed the flight attendants the sender’s inappropriate screen name and was amazed when one of the flight attendants picked up the intercom and told “Mr. Baggins” to immediately stop AirDropping.
“There was no question. They weren’t like, ‘What’s AirDrop?’ They just took care of it,” she said. “They continued to check on me during the flight and as I left the flight. I just was incredibly impressed.”
Southwest spokesman Chriz Mainz confirmed a passenger sent lewd photos and videos via AirDrop on Southwest Flight 1388.
“The safety and comfort of all of our customers is our highest concern, and we don’t condone such inappropriate behavior,” he said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Our crews are equipped to respond quickly and appropriately to address these concerns expressed by our customers, which is exactly what they did in this case.”
Because the individual was not arrested and Southwest did not identify the sender, USA TODAY was not able to request comment.
Pitman travels weekly for her work as a nonprofit executive and said this is the first time this has happened to her on a plane. She has received one other AirDrop from a stranger, but it was an innocuous photo of a playground sent by another patron at a family restaurant.
If a technology executive like Pitman can mess up the AirDrop settings on her phone, odds are other people need to look at theirs, too.
When she got on the plane, her AirDrop was set to receive files from “everyone” instead of limiting the senders to “contacts only.” (Another option is to click “receiving off.”)
In fact, Pitman says she usually keeps the feature turned off, activating it only when she needs to for work or to share stuff with her teenager daughters.
But the day before her flight, she had switched it to “everyone” so someone she met at a conference could send her their business card. (She offered AirDrop as an alternative to texting when the attendee asked for her cell phone number.)
She said she likely won’t use the “everyone” setting AirDrop again for fear of a repeat.
But she said the focus shouldn’t be on her phone settings: “The first response shouldn’t be, ‘You left this door open, therefore this is what’s going to happen,’ like it’s somehow OK.”
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