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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He ate ribs from a middle seat on a plane. Online outrage ensued.

There are unspoken rules to eating on a plane, and this traveler broke half of them

Ribs on a plane: Yes or no? (Lanna Tolland)
4 min

Every day, tiny crimes against humanity are committed on airplanes. There’s the in-flight nail clipping, the stranger’s bare feet on your arm rest, the — whatever’s going on here on this Ryanair flight.

And then there are the things people bring on planes to eat, a touchy subject as one person’s delicacy can be another’s nightmare fuel.

One such controversy unfolded this week. “No chance is the guy next to me eating a full rack of ribs plus sides on this plane,” Lanna Tolland tweeted on Feb. 20, with a photo of her middle-seat neighbor precariously balancing a takeout box on his lap on a flight departing Glasgow International Airport. (Tolland declined an interview with The Washington Post.)

To the people who willingly chose the middle seat: We have questions

According to internet detectives, the takeout in question was from Glasgow Airport’s Frankie and Benny’s, a United Kingdom-based “family friendly American Italian restaurant” chain that’s “the home of spaghetti, meatballs, pizza and birthday parties.” Tolland’s neighbor appears to have ordered their “Smoky Ultimate BBQ Ribs” with a side of “skin-on” fries and a half an ear of corn slathered in “mayo and Italian cheese.”

Some celebrated the traveler’s order, calling him a “king,” a “genius” and a “hero.” Other responders were horrified, or at least confused, by the spread.

“I don’t even like using my laptop on the plane in the middle seat,” one person wrote.

“[D]ude the amount of chewing and lip smacking i would have to hear would make me open the emergency doors and send everyone flying out of the plane,” wrote another.

Not to yuck anyone’s yums, but there are unspoken rules to eating on a plane to preserve what little order and dignity we have flying in economy. For the sake of your fellow travelers, in-flight food should be not too fragrant, not too messy and consumed in a timely fashion. Ribs take gnawing, ripping and savoring, not to mention a forest-worth of paper products for clean up.

You asked: Will in-flight meals give me food poisoning?

Twitter also had critiques of the quality of the ribs, like the person who identifies as “very much a Rib Guy™” but couldn’t condone the ribs in Tolland’s situation. “Can’t imagine a worse place to eat ribs than a middle seat on a plane,” he wrote. “You need space when you eat ribs. You gotta spread your wings and fly. Also I doubt any airport restaurant is smoking ribs. Baked ribs arent worth this hassle.”

Others had similar qualms with the rib quality. “Ribs look like they were cooked in the oven, still have the membrane on them, no thanks,” one person noticed.

We asked a few barbecue experts to weigh in.

Rick Og of Goldee’s Barbecue in Fort Worth, says the ribs look “interesting” and if they taste good to the traveler, that’s all that matters. “My go to on a plane probably wouldn’t be ribs,” he said in an email, “but if they were right in front of me I would eat them.”

Michael “Mike D” De Los Santos of Durham, N.C., who owns an award-winning line of BBQ sauces and dry rubs, wasn’t too concerned with the membrane issue (it’ll ding you points in a BBQ competition, but it’s not the end of the world). His issue was that the ribs looked either boiled and then finished in the oven or just oven cooked.

The airplane food is good. No, really.

“There is a lack of seasoning as well,” he said in a text. “Looks like they were sauced simply to add flavor and they are over sauced!”

As long as you have proper napkins, wet wipes and are willing to share, De Los Santos is all for ribs on a plane, “BBQ should and can be enjoyed anywhere,” he said.

But the viral traveler didn’t appear prepared with the proper clean-up essentials, and so as De Los Santos said: “he is a hero in thought but a villain in execution.”