Flight attendants can’t escape sexual harassment

A national survey released a few months ago found that 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment – although only 38 percent said it happened to them in their workplace. But when your workplace is a metal tube flying at 35,000 feet, the problem seems to be a whole lot worse.

TravelSkills with Chris McGinnis sponsored by

According to a new survey from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) – with responses from more than 3,500 of its U.S. members during February and March of this year – 68 percent said they have experienced sexual harassment during their flying careers.

Maybe this isn’t surprising considering that they spend their workdays surrounded by lonely business travelers, some of whom may have had too much to drink. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the flight attendants.

Decades ago, airlines inspired this kind of activity by actively promoting their flight attendants in suggestive ads and making them wear inappropriate clothing. (Remember National Airlines’ “Fly Me” campaign and Southwest’s “hot pants” uniforms from the 1970s? National even ran TV commercials with a flight attendant saying into the camera “I’m going to fly you like you’ve never been flown before!”)

But if 68 percent of flight attendants reported sexual harassment over their entire careers – which often span decades – have things gotten better in recent years as society becomes more enlightened on such matters? Not really: The survey found that 35 percent of the flight attendants experienced “verbal sexual harassment” from passengers during the past year – and of that number, more than two-thirds encountered it three or more times.

“Flight attendants describe the verbal sexual harassment as comments that are ‘nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty,’” AFA said. “They also report being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request for sexual ‘favors’ and pornographic videos and pictures.”

What’s more, about one out of five flight attendants said they suffered physical sexual harassment from passengers in the past 12 months – and 40 percent of those said it happened three or more times.

“Flight attendants said the physical sexual harassment included having their breasts, buttocks and crotch area ‘touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed, and fondled’ both on top of and under their uniforms.  Other abuse included passengers cornering or lunging at them followed by unwanted hugs, kisses and humping,” AFA said.

The flight attendants seem resigned to their fate: Only 7 percent said they reported these incidents to their airline employer. And 68 percent said they haven’t seen any attempts by those airlines over the past year to do anything about it – although AFA said that Alaska, United and Spirit Airlines “have led the industry in addressing this issue.”

“Harassment of flight attendants is legendary, but this survey shows just how commonplace it remains even during the #MeToo era,” said AFA President Sara Nelson. “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.”

What do you think? Have you witnessed sexual harassment onboard a plane or elsewhere in your travels? Is it getting better or worse? Leave your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page. 

Read all recent TravelSkills posts here

Get twice-per-week updates from TravelSkills via email! Sign up here

Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission.  You can reach Chris at [email protected] or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.

AdSense