Survey says two-thirds of flight attendants endure sexual harassment

A flight attendant serving coffee aboard a plane in Germany. The survey looked at US flight attendants.
A flight attendant serving coffee aboard a plane in Germany. The survey looked at US flight attendants.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - More than two-thirds of flight attendants in the US report experiencing verbal or physical sexual harassment during their careers, according to a study released on Thursday (May 10) by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

About 35 per cent of flight attendants taking part in the survey said they experienced verbal sexual harassment, including lewd, suggestive and inappropriate comments, in the past year alone.

Eighteen per cent were physically harassed during the same period, reporting that they were "touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed and fondled", on top of and under their uniforms, AFA said.

Beyond its impact on the individual, such abuse threatens passengers' safety by undermining flight attendants' authority in emergencies and making it harder for them to intervene in disputes between passengers, the union said.

The AFA called on the US airline industry to take steps to combat such harassment and acknowledge how it can affect safety.

Sixty-eight per cent of the 3,500 flight attendants who took part in the survey said they have seen no efforts by airlines to address workplace sexual harassment in the past year, and only 7 per cent have reported such abuse. The study included employees of 29 US airlines.

"Harassment of flight attendants is legendary, but this survey shows just how commonplace it remains even during the #MeToo era," Sara Nelson, the AFA president, said in a statement.

"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. The dignity and well-being of flight attendants and the safety of all travellers depend on it."

United Continental Holdings, Spirit Airlines and Alaska Air Group have worked with the union on stopping such behaviour in the industry, the AFA said.