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Nearly 70% of US Flight Attendants Report Sexual Harassment on the Job

May 10, 2018
4 min read
Nearly 70% of US Flight Attendants Report Sexual Harassment on the Job
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Nearly 70% of US flight attendants have experienced sexual harassment on the job, according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), a flight attendants' union which represents 50,000 flight attendants across 20 airlines.

On Thursday, the union released the results of a nationwide survey with responses from more than 3,500 flight attendants representing 29 US airlines. Gender ratios amongst survey participants were consistent with the national averages of 80% women to 20% men. The survey, conducted between February and March 2018, included a number of damning statistics calling out industry oversights as recently as 2017.

Furthermore, 68% of survey responses reported that, despite increased social awareness of workplace harassment and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, flight attendants did not perceive any efforts from airlines to address workplace sexual harassment in 2017.

"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," said Sara Nelson, the president of the flight attendants' union. "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."

In 2017 alone, 35% of all surveyed flight attendants stated that passengers made lewd, suggestive or inappropriate comments to them within the year, while 18% were physically molested by passengers, including having their breasts, buttocks or 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 or humping.

Those who reported harassment were far more likely to experience it more than once: out of the 35% who reported verbal harassment, 68% reported three or more instances within a year, and 33% reported five or more instances within 2017 alone. Out of the 18% who experienced physical harassment, more than 40% reported three or more instances within the same year.

Only 7% of surveyed flight attendants who experienced either physical or verbal harassment said they had reported it to their employers — a statistic very much in line with other industries, as reported by Harvard Business Review and Newsweek. ABC News reported that 95% of workplace harassment victims believed that their abusers went unpunished, and as high as 70% of female and 50% of male non-victims believed the same.

In a statement released along with the survey data, AFA called on the entire industry to step up its support of employees, both for the sake of employee rights as well as for public safety.

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

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AFA stressed that travelers are also responsible for creating a safe environment for flight attendants.

"Flight attendants are first responders. Their authority when responding to emergencies is undermined when they are belittled and harassed," Nelson said, explaining how harassment has serious ramifications that go well beyond employee rights alone.

Nelson also pointed out that 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," Nelson said. AFA specifically acknowledged Alaska, United and Spirit Airlines for working with AFA to improve working circumstances for flight attendants.

Passengers and flight crew alike have spoken up about verbal and physical harassment for decades, their brave voices often reaching deaf ears. But a number of high-profile cases have finally brought the issue to the forefront of public acknowledgement: Randi Zuckerberg publicly called out an Alaska Airlines passenger who harassed her in 2017, and Delta passenger Allison Dvaladze is suing the airline for its "anemic response" after Dvaladze reported a passenger for physically molesting her on an international flight in 2016.

Alaska Airlines, which was praised by AFA for working with the union to improve safety measures for flight attendants, is currently being sued by Alaska pilot Betty Pina, who alleged that she was drugged and raped by a fellow pilot who continued working for the airline without consequence, despite Pina reporting the incident and fully cooperating with all investigative procedures.

Featured image by Getty Images