Flight attendants endure rampant sexual harassment, study reveals

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More than two-thirds of flight attendants in the U.S. have reported experiencing verbal or physical sexual harassment throughout their careers, according to a study released Thursday by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

About 35 percent of flight attendants taking part in the survey said they experienced verbal sexual harassment, including lewd, suggestive and inappropriate comments, in the past year alone. Eighteen percent were physically harassed during the same period, reporting that they were “touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed and fondled,” on top of and under their uniforms, AFA said.

Despite the #MeToo movement bringing awareness to sexual harassment in the workplace, 68 percent of flight attendants say they saw no efforts by airlines to address these issues over the past year.

“While much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on high-profile cases in the entertainment industry and politics, this survey underscores why AFA has long been pushing to eradicate sexism and harassment within our own industry,” Sara Nelson, AFA president, said. “The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past.”

The statistics, while disappointing, shouldn’t come as a surprise as stories about men acting inappropriately on planes are rampant in the industry. In 2017, American Airlines came under fire when a woman awoke to find out a fellow passenger had masturbated next to her. In 2015, a different woman delivered a viral speech to a man who sexually harassed her on a plane, as well. Women aren’t even allegedly safe from Donald Trump while in the air.

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The union calls on the public to raise awareness about the abuse of attendants, not just because it’s inexcusable, but also because it can also endanger fellow passengers. AFA said the degradation of attendants makes it more difficult for them to maintain safety regulations and authority in an emergency situation.

“Flight attendants are first responders. Their authority when responding to emergencies is undermined when they are belittled and harassed,” the study said. “Likewise, harassment makes it more difficult for flight attendants to intervene when passengers are harassed by other passengers. Flight attendants must be confident that airline executives will back them up when they respond to and report harassment of crew and passengers.”

Tess Cagle

Tess Cagle

Tess Cagle is a reporter who focuses on politics, lifestyle, and streaming entertainment. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, Damn Joan, and Community Impact Newspaper. She’s also a portrait, events, and live music photographer in Central Texas.