A group of Air France whistleblowers have claimed there is a culture of sexual violence at the French flag carrier which is so widespread that many workers won’t even “bat an eyelid” if they witness sexual harassment and assault. And while Air France says it takes “the subject of preventing sexist behaviour and harassment very seriously,” insiders claim the reality is very different for many workers.
“Recently, a flight attendant said to me “Don’t you want to give the captain a blowjob so that it goes faster?” revealed one member of Air France cabin crew who spoke on condition of anonymity with French-language newspaper Mediapart.
“The captain let me pass in front of him, saying to me in a low voice “I’m doing this to be able to watch the ass of the hostesses,” another young female flight attendant who was working at Air France on a temporary student contract revealed. “At the time of taking back our suitcases, he hands me mine telling me that it was very light and that my pants must be “very small”,” she continued.
In total, personal testimonies were gathered from 12 Air France staffers who all detailed similar allegations of sexual harassment and assault. What the majority of these accounts had in common was the indifference that coworkers had shown when thee incidents occurred.
One check-in agent detailed an incident in which a passenger tried to forcefully kiss her. “My colleagues didn’t really care,” the woman said. “Because it is very widespread, sexual harassment becomes almost trivial. You could say that it is part of the package.”
“The chief stewards and chief stewards, in charge of the crew, do not react when they witness scenes of sexual harassment,” another student flight attendant said of her experience at the airline. Many of those who shared their experience said others did not make complaints because they hoped to one day make it onto a permanent contract – something they feared wouldn’t happen if they spoke their story.
One temporary flight attendant who did speak out described the “fragile” situation they found themselves in. “In training, they constantly reminded us that it is a “privilege” to work for them, and implicitly, that we are replaceable.”
An Air France source told Mediapart the majority of the cases it reported were already known about and had been thoroughly investigated. Disciplinary action including dismissal in some cases had resulted from the investigations.
Air France says it has a longstanding commitment to equality and wants to put an end to sexism but admits gender stereotypes persist at the airline. A spokesperson says it launched its ‘Dare to say it” (#OsonsLeDire) campaign in 2017 encouraging employees to speak out against sexual harassment and to share the sexist remarks they “heard on a daily basis”.
“Air France is continuing its actions and is conducting new actions to put an end to everyday sexism at work,” the airline explains.
A survey of U.S.-based flight attendants found that more than two-thirds had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their flying careers. More than one-in-three flight attendants said they had experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers, while nearly one fifth had experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the last year alone.
“The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded,” commented Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants who commissioned the survey.
“Harassment of flight attendants is legendary, but this survey shows just how commonplace it remains even during the #MeToo era,” she continued. “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 travellers depend on it.”
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.