Shocking results from a survey of over 3,500 flight attendants has revealed that 68% of respondents have suffered some form of sexual harassment during their flying careers. The survey, which took in the views of flight attendants representing 29 airlines across the United States, also worryingly found that in the last year alone, nearly one in five flight attendants had experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) which commissioned the study said the results highlighted the need to do more to eradicate sexism and harassment within the aviation industry. The union claims a failure to act could have serious safety implications.
Around 18% of flight attendants told researchers they had been subjected to physical sexual harassment by passengers in the last 12-months. Allegations included having their breasts, buttocks and crotch area “touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed, and fondled.” Others said they had been “cornered” by passengers and forced into unwanted hugs, kissing and even dry “humping”.
A higher number, about 35%, had been at the receiving end of verbal sexual harassment from passengers in the last year – yet only 7% of flight attendants who had fallen victims to such assaults felt comfortable in telling their employer.
Over two-thirds of flight attendants claimed they hadn’t noticed their airline do anything to address sexual harassment in the last year. However, the AFA says some airlines, including Alaska, United, and Spirit are industry leaders in combatting the issue.
Referencing the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements which has been popularised by A-List Hollywood celebrities, Sara Nelson, the AFA’s president, said more needed to be done to end the objectification of flight attendants.
“The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded,” Nelson explained.
“#TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past.”
Nelson argues that a culture which permits the sexual harassment of flight attendants could have serious safety implications when they are required to respond the emergencies.
“Flight attendants are first responders. Their authority when responding to emergencies is undermined when they are belittled and harassed. Likewise, harassment makes it more difficult for flight attendants to intervene when passengers are harassed by other passengers.”
Calling on the entire industry to face the issue head-on, Nelson is also asking the travelling public to get involved and demand an environment that provides flight attendants with the “respect and dignity they need to do their jobs.”
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.