Lawmakers Urge 30 Airlines to Address Sexual Harassment, Assault in Aviation

May 25, 2018

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Legislators are calling on airline executives to take action on sexual harassment and assault in the aviation industry. The call to action took place in the form of a letter signed by lawmakers and addressed to the leaders of 30 airlines.

“Flight attendants are first responders to medical emergencies, in-flight fires, or evacuations as well as the last line of defense against hijacking,” said the lawmakers, who hail from both major political parties. “They deserve our respect and gratitude, and to be treated fairly.”

US Representatives Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida, and Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Virginia, chose to address the industry directly for the sake of faster resolution. “In my opinion,” Frankel said, “It will be quicker for industry leaders to step up and fix the problem rather than waiting for Congress.” Comstock added, “We are continuing our efforts at creating a culture of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and the best practices for ensuring that.”

Earlier this month, a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA revealed that only an estimated 7% of flight attendants report verbal or physical harassment and assault, for fear of jeopardizing their careers. In contrast, a shocking 68% of survey responses stated 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.

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.

Frankel and Comstock’s call to action also extends to passenger protection. In recent months, numerous passengers have spoken up and pursued legal action after being harassed and assaulted in the air, while children who fly alone are some of the most vulnerable targets for in-flight predators. And multiple pilots across several airlines are facing rape charges against fellow pilots and flight attendants alike.

The issue of employee rights and protection also isn’t limited to US borders: SpiceJet flight attendants recently spoke out against a degrading strip search mandated by the airline.

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