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Survey: 68 Percent Of Flight Attendants Sexually Harassed By Passengers

Flight attendants say the ongoing issue of harassment has not been addressed by airlines. 

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

Professional cheerleading isn’t the only women-dominated field allegedly rife with sexual harassment.

The Association of Flight Attendants announced on Thursday that 68 percent of its members have experienced sexual harassment during their careers, CNNMoney reports, citing a recent survey of AFA members conducted from February to March. Representing around 50,000 flight attendants working for a variety of airlines including United, Alaska, and Spirit, the organization is the largest flight attendant union in the world, CNBC reports.

Of the 3,568 respondents to the survey, who represent 29 U.S. airlines, 35 percent said they’d experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers within the past year. Within that group, more than two thirds experienced it three or more times, while a third reported that it happened more than three times. Respondents described the verbal harassment as “nasty,” “crude,” and “unwanted,” and report being propositioned by passengers, being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, and fielding requests for sexual favors and pornographic pics and videos. Physical harassment included having their breasts, crotch, and buttocks grabbed and groped both on top of and under their uniforms. In other cases, passengers have cornered or lunged at them, and subjected them to unwanted hugs, kisses, and humping.

  • 18 percent of flight attendants reported having experienced physical harassment from passengers over the last year.
  • Within that group, more than 40 percent were physically abused three or more times over the last year.
  • While only 7 percent of flight attendants have gone on to report the harassment to their employers, 68 percent said they had not noticed any employer efforts to address sexual harassment over the past year. (The AFA report does credit Alaska, United, and Spirit airlines for leading the industry in addressing this issue.)
  • 80 percent of those surveyed were women, while 20 percent were men.

Flight attendants surveyed reported that the most common response to being verbally or physically harassed by passengers is to avoid interacting with the passenger further, ignore the harassment, or attempt to diffuse the situation.

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

Part of the problem stems from how flight attendants have been advertised in the past, Nelson told CNBC, with airlines marketing them as “as sexual objects” for decades. It isn’t just a problem for female employees either, Nelson suggested.

“I've seen incredible harassment towards my male flying partners,” Nelson told CNNMoney.

Is change on the horizon, however? In a statement to CNNMoney, Alaska Airlines commented, “We appreciate the partnership with the AFA, law enforcement and experts to do our part in addressing this pervasive societal issue.”

The CEOs of Alaska, United, and Spirit Airlines have all spoken within the last year on issues of harassment and gender equality in the form of blog posts and open letters.

(Photo: Stock photo posed by model. By izusek, via Getty Images)