Flight Attendants Get Harassed in the "Friendly Skies" Every Day — And They've Been Targeted for Decades

Flight Attendants Get Harassed in the "Friendly Skies" Every Day — And They've Been Targeted for Decades

Inadequate attention has been paid to the horrors flight staff experience. 

By Marianne Garvey

Workplace sexual harassment is all over the news unfortunately — and it’s not just happening in offices. Employees wokring at 35,000 feet are often the victims of inappropriate behavior, and they're trapped in a confined space with nowhere to run. 

According to Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and a 21-year flight attendant, sexual harassment on flights is an “epidemic,” and is a particular problem for flight staff. And it's been ignored forever.

She explains that “[flight attendants] have to deal with a close, confined space where you cannot walk away. You cannot call for help. Our biggest challenge is keeping the temperature down… Our planes are fuller than ever. The passenger-on-passenger assault is more likely in crowded planes.”

Besides written rules, many airlines lack proper training for flight crews to handle unruly passengers who sexually harass airline staff — which happens on a daily basis, but often goes unreported. Pinching, grabbing, and lewd comments are common for flight attendants, but they often don’t know who to complain to.

“There is virtually no guidance or training, no pointing to this issue as a unique issue,” Sara adds “There’s no discussion about it… There are flights attendants on the front lines who are experiencing sexual harassment and varying degrees of assault every single day. If they are going to be able to have the proper tools to keep themselves and passengers safe, they have to have the backing of airline management."

Thirty-year flight attendant Sandra Davis tells Runway Girl Network: “Passengers touch our bottoms or grab our waists like we are public property. Male flight attendants, they get it differently. They will get some homophobic remarks.”

Attention on flight attendants comes amid a watershed moment on sexual harassment, and male figures in Hollywood and politics being brought down for their inappropriate — and often predatory — behavior.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, this was entirely acceptable behavior from all of society, not just the airline industry,” Sarah added. "We are rejoicing in that [change], but we don't have the tools and the training and the clear direction from our management [to stop it]… It's the whole plane.”

According to Airlines for America, flights “have well-defined processes and procedures in place” for nuisances on board, but again, not much happens as a result.

I'm a 2014 survey, 27 percent of flight attendants asked revealed they had been sexually harassed in the previous twelve months.

Perhaps some inappropriate attention stems from when flight attendants were called “stewardesses,” and wore heavy makeup and mini skirts. Some of that aviation-world objectification of women still exists today, and it's not helping.

Some just take matters into their own hands. 

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