Airline Action at all levels is needed to stop Flight Attendant Sexual Harassment NOW

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Flight attendants subject to sexual assaults in the skies

Congress and Executive Solutions TOO SLOW

Cabin Crews, Cockpit Crews, Customer Service Agents see the problem

3600 perspective will design better solutions



Sara Nelson, international president, Association of Flight Attendants, recently documented the unacceptably high incidence of sexual harassment of her members while performing afa sara nelsontheir on-board safety work:

 A total of 1,929 responses were recorded during the one month time frame that the survey was available. 
Summary findings included:

One out of five responding flight attendants has experienced a report of passenger on passenger sexual 
assault while working a flight.

The most common action taken by an intervening Flight Attendant was to physically separate the passengers 
and notify all flying partners.

Law enforcement was contacted or met the plane less than half of the time.

Most intervening actions taken must have been due to the resourcefulness of the intervening involved 
Flight Attendants as the overwhelming 
majority of responders report no knowledge of written guidance and/or training on this specific issue 
available through their airline.

Ms. Nelson’s explanation of the problem resonates with the current public policy around female objectification. Airlines for decades emphasized that “stewardesses” were part of the flight experience and AFA is correct in calling for a commercial campaign to remind the traveling public that the women and men, who stand before them and instruct the passengers on safety procedures, are there most importantly for their safety. Nelson is lobbying Congress and working to get airlines to enact a zero-tolerance policy industry-wide.

Flight Attendant 60s-70s collage

AFA has cited two immediate, positive airline responses:


United Airlines responded immediately and did just that, so if you’re flying in and out of the islands, United Airlines is one that has said there is no tolerance at this airline,” Nelson said. “Another airline that has stepped up and is working with us by changing policy and putting the training in places is Alaska Airlines. But the rest of the industry has yet to respond.”

UA Munoz with employees







“We commend Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden who took the opportunity to learn from a recent event on an Alaska plane. Instead of being critical of the victim or the Flight Attendants, he and his management team recognized this as a moment for reflection. They took swift corrective action to support the victim and support the Flight Attendants. Alaska management is now working with AFA flight attendant leaders at Alaska to address this issue in a meaningful way.Alaska's Tilden




The union has done an excellent job of educating the public:

·         Flight Attendant Union Calls on Industry to Back Crews with Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment and Assault

·       No More “Coffee, Tea, or Me?”


·         THE ONE BEST IDEA FOR ENDING SEXUAL HARASSMENT-Originally published in The Washington Post on December 8, 2017

Good support cane from ALPA:

ALPA tweet


Christine Negroni eloquently wrote about these professionals’ plight in RunwayGirlNetwork,  Flight attendants need to feel empowered to fight harassment

REUTERS highlighted the problem: U.S. flight crews ill-equipped for sexual harassment complaints

The Huffington Post and other news sources have done a good job of publicizing this issue:

For Flight Attendants, Sexual Assault Isn’t Just Common, It’s Almost A Given

afa harass

It will take a while to eradicate the image created for the old airline advertising:

UA advertisement

(as a contemporary of this ‘60s advertisement, I

 look at it today with shock.)

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 4, 2017. This week lawmakers lambasted executives from United Airlines and other carriers as the first of two congressional hearings began into the high-profile incident of police dragging a man off a flight last month. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesAs mentioned above, President Nelson has taken the AFA message to the Hill and as a result Congress has taken an interest in the harassment of Flight Attendants.

Democratic Senators, Senators Bob Casey and Patty Murray, among others, have complained about a lack of guidance given to airlines and their flight crews on how to deal with sexual harassment. Casey and Murray wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration urging them to do more to track incidents and to strengthen federal rules and guidelines. They also introduced a bill mandating better tracking and clearer rules, but it has not become law. Casey, Murray and 21 Senate Democrats urge FAA and DoJ to protect Women from sexual assaults on Airplanes, October 31, 2016 Given the glacier like movement of any legislation, a new statute will not become a reality any time in the near future.

The request of Justice and the FAA to do more is equally quixotic. Establishing ENFORCEABLE standards in behaviors to be prohibited would be difficult; punitive criteria must be precise and much (not all) of the actions meander in the gray, nebulous area of conduct. For the incontrovertible prohibited behaviors, a statute or regulation requires law enforcement personnel, either on board or immediately upon arrival at the next airport.

Ms. Nelson told HuffPost that in her experience ― along with the experience of some of the 50,000 flight attendants across the 20 airlines the association represents ― there is no exact protocol on how to handle it. “There is very little training. It’s nonexistent, actually,” she said. “There is training on how to handle assault and aggressive behavior on a plane, but there is no recognition of sexual assault as a unique crime.”

That is something that can be done NOW and may be best designed to PREVENT, rather than react, to this abhorrent passenger behavior. Development of solutions should not be limited to the cabin crew; all of the airline employees who participate in the customer experience prior to boarding and the cockpit crew should be included. As with SMS (these interreferences with the flight attendants’ work should be considered a safety risk), the perspectives of other airline employees (advertising, medical, training, personnel, accounting, legal, maintenance, etc.) would add to the derivation of effective countermeasures.

The message of airline commercials should include a strong statement about the safety role of the flight attendants and should emphasize how these innuendo-laden passenger efforts are not acceptable and could result in future exclusion from flights. Explicit messages and improper contact will result in the airline seeking criminal actions. ZERO TOLERANCE = ZERO TOLERANCE!!!


Whatever the specifics, the general theme for any remedial effort should focus on a team approach.  Everyone from curbside to cabin should look for individuals who are potential harassers. There is a high level of correlation of alcohol consumption and this unacceptable conduct. Perhaps, the intoxication level is not enough to deny boarding, but flagging a potential problem can allow preventative tactics.

Dealing with improper actions or suggestive language should not be the responsibility of a single flight attendant but should involve support. Remedial intervention should be part of the training for all involved with passenger contact.

Waiting for Congress and/or the Administration to act will not put a stop to flight attendant sexual harassment NOW. Airline management, all involved work groups and outside experts applying their collective expertise is the most immediate and efficacious method for assuring the dignity and professional status of flight attendants. A team approach and full management commitment might curb, if not prevent, this idiotic problem.

airline team



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