New figures reveal nearly three-quarters of flight attendants have been subjected to sexual harassment while at work. The revelation was made by Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants as she testified in Congress before the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues yesterday.
Nelson was giving evidence about ways that sexual harassment and assault can be combatted in the service sector when she revealed the preliminary shocking results of the survey. Thousands of flight attendants from over 32 airlines have already made their voices heard.
And what’s most shocking about these results is that we’re not talking about historical harassment or assault here – the results cover events from just the last 12 months. During that same time, 68% of flight attendants said their airline hasn’t done anything to combat the problem of sexual harassment.
“Not that long ago, the industry marketed the objectification of “stewardesses,” a job only available to young, single, perfectly polished women,” Nelson told the committee, noting that until 1993 flight attendants in the United States were expected to be weighed before they were offered a job.
In fact, that’s a practice that’s still ongoing at other international airlines and Nelson was quick to mention the comments made last year by Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Gulf carrier, Qatar Airways who inferred cabin crew at his airline were better than at U.S. rivals because they were younger.
Evoking the #MeToo movement, Nelson says it’s her union’s job to “beat back discrimination and misogyny faced on the job” – such as winning the fight to banish the term Stewardess into the history books.
The sexualised imagery of young, pretty and glamorous female flight attendants (hostesses or stewardesses as some people might still say) has long been used by airlines to market their product. And that’s created a longterm problem which still hasn’t gone away claims Nelson.
“Even today, we are called pet names, patted on the rear when a passenger wants our attention, cornered in the back galley and asked about our “hottest” layover, and subjected to incidents too awful to recall.”
“Still, flight attendants are hopeful this is the moment we can put “coffee, tea, or me” behind us and lift our careers.”
Nelson applauds the work of Alaska’s chief executive, Brad Tilden and United’s Oscar Munoz to denounce sexual harassment but says much more needs to be done. Most airline’s don’t even have a policy to cover sexual assaults or harassment against their flight attendants – at least, not that their own staff know of.
Instead, Nelson is calling on the airlines, government agencies and even airport operators to start a conversation – making it clear that sexual harassment is never acceptable. She’s calling on the industry to finally take this issue seriously – maybe next year, the results of the same survey will be very different.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.