There are some things that are certain in life and one of them is that no matter how many times you’ve flown before, you’ll still have to listen to a pre-flight safety briefing before your next flight. The safety demonstration is, of course, a Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) necessity – airlines are encouraged to make them “interesting”, “attractive” and even “innovative” but they must cover certain mandatory elements.
At present, that mandatory list includes complying with placards and crew member instructions, no smoking, how to fasten (and unfasten) a seatbelt, where the exits are located, and the location and use of life vests. Other mandatory elements include emergency lighting, emergency oxygen, the brace position, and where to find the safety briefing card.
The list, as you can already see, is quite extensive and nothing can be left out no matter how obvious it may now seem to us worldly travellers. So, it’s fairly unusual for airlines to start adding extra bits to the safety demonstration – there’s nothing actually stopping them but it can make for a very long and boring briefing that ends up with passengers tuning out (defeating the very purpose of doing a safety demo).
After all, the FAA is always reviewing other mandatory elements – the use of personal electronic devices (PED’s) has become a big issue in recent years and airlines have been forced to add important information about their use into safety demonstrations.
But Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has taken it upon itself to react to an alarming trend by adding an extra line to its safety briefing that goes beyond the minimum FAA requirements.
“Your privacy is important to us. Please report any inappropriate passenger behaviour to a flight attendant”.
That might seem fairly innocuous but its believed that simple sentence is just one but very public step that Alaska Airlines has implemented in the last year to combat in-flight sexual assault and harassment. Last April, the airline’s chief executive Brad Tilden told team members in an internal memo that he had:
“Asked each of our leaders to ensure that proper policies and procedures, proper training, and proper awareness exists to respond promptly and thoughtfully to incidents, and to report quickly if incidents of harassment or assault do occur.”
Along with many U.S.-based airlines, Alaska has itself had high-profile sexual assault incidents occur on its flights. Victims are often young female passengers, usually travelling on their own, during overnight red-eye flights. Perpetrators will use the cover of a dark cabin to grope and molest their victims, sometimes using blankets to disguise what they’re doing.
And despite help being just feet away, many victims feel trapped and too vulnerable to seek the assistance of flight attendants. Even when they do, there have been horrifying examples of flight attendants refusing to believe the victim and not taking steps to report the allegation to law enforcement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is responsible for investigating in-flight sexual assaults within or en route to the United States says this type of crime is on the rise. The agency recorded a near 100% increase in reported cases between 2014 and 2017 – although that might only be the tip of the iceberg.
The situation is said to have become so bad that the Department of Transport was recently ordered to create a National In-Flight Sexual Assault Task Force on the back of a new spending bill which may even see airlines being forced to release annual sexual assault statistics that occur on their planes.
The FBI even offers advice on how to prevent in-flight sexual assault – According to the agency, passengers should never mix alcohol with sleeping tablets or allow a stranger to raise the armrest – no matter how trustworthy they might seem. And if an attack does happen, victims shouldn’t wait – immediately tell a flight attendant and ask to be reseated.
It’s great to see that Alaska is being so proactive in protecting its passengers. The airline has previously been applauded by lawmakers and unions on the steps its already taken to combat sexual harassment – this privacy announcement is a very welcome public declaration.
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.