Nearly 70% of US flight attendants experience 'rampant' sexual harassment, according to a new survey

  • Flight attendants in the US are subjected to “rampant” sexual harassment, according to a survey by the AFA.
  • More than two thirds of flight attendants said they have experienced sexual harassment during their career.
  • However, just 7% reported this harassment to their employer.

For flight attendants, there are a lot of perks of the job, like travelling around the world. There are also some less glamorous secrets they will never tell you.

But you might not expect sexual harassment to be among the major problems. According to a new survey by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), sexual harassment is “rampant” in the industry.

The AFA surveyed 3,568 flight attendants from 29 US airlines, using the gender ratio which is consistent with national averages of 80% women to 20% men. Results showed that 68% of flight attendants had experienced sexual harassment at some point during their flying career.

About 35% said they’d experienced verbal sexual harassment. Of those, 68% said it had happened three or more times in the past year alone, and a third said it had happened five times.

Worryingly, 18% said a passenger had physically sexually harassed them in the past year. Over 40% of those participants said it had happened three or more times.

Participants of the survey described instances where passengers would make “nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty” comments.

“They also report being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request[s] for sexual ‘favours’ and pornographic videos and pictures,” said the union.

“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, president of the AFA.

“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.”

Despite the high prevalence of harassment, just 7% of the flight attendants who experienced the abuse reported it to their employer. It could be because they don’t trust their employer to do anything, as 68% of respondents said they haven’t noticed any employer effort to address sexual harassment at work.

It’s not just passengers flight attendants have to be concerned about, either. An article in Cosmopolitan in February collected stories from 12 flight attendants working for several different airlines. They described worrying, invasive behaviour from flight attendant colleagues and pilots.

One attendant called Alyssa said about one pilot: “He touched my hand and put it on his leg and said, ‘This is my wallet, but don’t be alarmed if you feel something else.’ And he asked me if I was more attracted to him or the other pilot, both of which are in their mid-50s. While we were dancing, the other pilot actually tried to slap my butt too.”

Pilots tend to be a close-knit group, and reportedly warn each other about flight attendants who might be less than agreeable.

“They can say they don’t want you on their flight, or kick you off a flight, which means you don’t get paid,” another attendant said.

“It’s time for all of us – airlines, unions, regulators, legislators and passengers – to put a stop to behaviours that can no longer be condoned,” said Nelson. “The dignity and well-being of flight attendants and the safety of all travellers depend on it.”

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