A new survey has revealed that sexual harassment and violence is a common occurrence for many German flight attendants and campaigners are now calling on airlines to do much more to stamp out the crime – including banning adverts that sexualise cabin crew. The survey, which was conducted by the Independent Flight Attendant Organization (UFO) who represent cabin crew at Lufthansa, Eurowings and Condor revealed 49.6% of serving crew had been “sexually molested” while doing their job.
Shockingly, nearly half of those incidents were perpetrated by onboard supervisors, while passengers accounted for about a quarter of the assaults. The vast majority of sexual assaults occurred onboard – either in the air or on the ground – but around 37% of assaults also occurred during layovers.
Worryingly, the levels of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault on German cabin crew is way above the national average with one recent poll suggesting 26% of women and just 6% of men in other industries had been subjected to similar behaviour. The survey of flight attendants, does, however, echo similar polls conducted in both the United States and Australia.
A survey of American flight attendants revealed that two-thirds had been subjected to sexual assault at some point during their flying careers. And in the last year, 35% had experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers, yet two-thirds of flight attendants said they hadn’t noticed any effort from their employers to combat the abuse.
A similar poll by a flight attendant union in Australia also found that two-thirds of its members had been subject to sexual assault during their careers.
Activists blame the objectification of cabin crew that have persisted since the 1950s when flight attendants were chosen based on looks, size, age, weight and marital status.
“To this day, in advertising and social media, female colleagues in short uniform skirts, open hair and red lipstick are constantly smiling seductively at the camera,” the UFO union explained in a statement. The union says there is a need for urgent action to be taken.
The union has demanded that sexualised advertising imagery, like the type that Eurowings frequently relies upon, be banned and is also asking for an awareness campaign for both staff and passengers. A similar call was made by the Association of Flight Attendants last year.
In light of serious incidents like the recent Aeroflot diaster, flight attendant leaders are at pains to point out that their members are first and foremost safety professionals. Some airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, have taken to relaxing strict grooming guidelines which may go some way to change perceptions of what a flight attendant is meant to look like (and put up with) – it’s now time for many other airlines to get onboard.