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Sexual harassment in the skies

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines globally reported in 2016 just 211 instances of inappropriate sexual behavior. Thus, against the background of 3.8 billion passengers on more than 40 million flights sexual assault would be extremely rare up in the air.

The IATA also says that fewer than half of those cases were reported to the authorities. Thus, there have been very few police investigations.

Most people and organizations Reuters contacted about in-flight sexual misconduct against passengers and crew - including carriers, flight attendant unions and airline training consultants – say that incidents are vastly under-reported. Some cite as 1 of the reasons that victims are required to press charges as the airline cannot do that for them.

Reuters contacted nearly 2 dozen major carriers, but only Japan Airlines gave actual figures on incidents of sexual harassment on its flights: around 10-20 a year, with police called in on some cases.

According to the IATA, ⅓ of almost 10,000 unruly passenger incidents reported in 2016 involved intoxication. Just 2% were of inappropriate sexual behavior. American Airlines recently decided to provide enhanced training in sexual harassment matters as part of a broader diversity and inclusion drive, a spokeswoman says, but she declines to give further details.

Suhaila Hassan, head of cabin crew at Malaysia-based budget airline AirAsia, says there has been no reported cases of passenger-on-passenger harassment, though there have been occasional instances of cabin crew being harassed.

She says it is possible that some incidents have not been reported to the airline and victims suffer in silence. That could be the case because of the culture: people feel shy and embarrassed if revealed. This fits with broader studies estimating that ¾ of sexual harassment incidents in the workplace in the USA go unreported.

A survey by the US Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) in 2017 found 1/5 of cabin crew respondents had experienced a passenger-to-passenger assault while working on a flight. The union has expressed concern that policies related to passenger sexual misconduct are rarely highlighted. More than half of those surveyed say they have no knowledge of specific policies.

Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ boss, responded to an op-ed AFA President Sara Nelson published in The Washington Post by writing a public letter to all of United’s employees. However, he does not write anything about additional training for United’s employees about how to deal with sexual misconduct in the skies.

Tags: sexual harassment, IATA, The Washington Post

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