Sexual Harassment of Flight Attendants Rampant, Survey Finds


Flight attendants are subjected to extensive sexual harassment on the job a new survey finds. According to the survey, released this week by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), 68% of flight attendants have experience sexual harassment during their flying careers.

In the last year, 35% have experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers. Of those, 68% faced it three or more times, and a third five or more times.

Of the respondents, 18% have experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the last year. More than 40% of those suffered physical abuse three or more times.

Flight attendants described verbal sexual harassment as comments that were “nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty.” They also report being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request for sexual “favors” and pornographic videos and pictures.

They described the physical harassment as including having their breasts, buttocks and crotch area “touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed, and fondled” both on top of and under their uniforms. Other abuse included passengers cornering or lunging at them followed by unwanted hugs, kisses and humping.

Among the most common responses to both the verbal and physical abuse by attendants was to avoid further interaction with the passenger, ignore it or attempt to diffuse/deflect the situation.

Attendants feel employers are not paying adequate attention to the problem as 68% of attendants say they have not noticed any employer efforts over the past year to address harassment at work.

“While much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on high-profile cases in the entertainment industry and politics, this survey underscores why AFA has long been pushing to eradicate sexism and harassment within our own industry,” said Sara Nelson, AFA President. “The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past.”

“Flight attendants are first responders. Their authority when responding to emergencies is undermined when they are belittled and harassed,” she said.

The AFA represents about 50,000 flight attendants at 20 different airlines, including United, Alaska and Spirit. More than 3,500 flight attendants from 29 different U.S. airlines responded to the online survey between February and March of this year.

The union is calling on the airline industry to recognize the impact harassment has on safety and take steps to combat it. It’s also calling on the flying public to create an environment that treats attendants with the respect and dignity needed to do their jobs, which includes keeping passengers safe.

“Harassment of flight attendants is legendary, but this survey shows just how commonplace it remains even during the #MeToo era,” said Nelson. “It’s time for all of us – airlines, unions, regulators, legislators and passengers – to put a stop to behaviors that can no longer be condoned. The dignity and well-being of flight attendants and the safety of all travelers depend on it.”

Photo by Peter Burge via Flickr

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