In 2017, the FBI investigated 63 incidents of sexual assault that allegedly took place aboard passenger airlines. That number, however, is not even close to the real number of in-flight sexual assaults that happen in the air. Many instances are ignored due to the inadequate training flight crews receive on how to handle sexual assault situations.
The #MeToo movement has provided many survivors with an outlet to share their stories as well as sparked a public conversation regarding how sexual assault should be handled. However, when it comes to misconduct that occurs in a crammed vessel cruising 30,000 feet above the Earth, it becomes a bit trickier to deal with.
In July, NYMM posted an article about Chloe King, a woman who napped aboard an American Airlines flight to Paris while a fellow passenger masturbated next to her sleeping body. King was informed of the incident by a flight attendant when she awoke and was told the man would be arrested upon landing. When she requested a seat change, the airline could not accommodate her and she was forced to sit beside her harasser for the duration of the flight.
“I awoke to a hand in my crotch. It was confusing at first. I didn’t have time to think about it,” Dvaladze recalled. She attempted to remove herself from the situation but her assailant kept grabbing her.
Once she had finally managed to get away, Dvaladze ran to the back of the plane to tell the flight attendants what just happened. “I feel that they were wanting to be supportive, but it was also clear that there was no clear procedure on how they should respond and what the protocol was for what to do next.”
Sara Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant, believes that in-flight assault could become a much larger problem within the next few years.
“We have seats closer together. We have airplanes that are fuller than ever. Flight attendant staffing has been reduced to minimums, so we have anywhere from 25 to 50 percent fewer flight attendants on the plane than we did ten years ago,” Nelson told PBS.
Nelson went on to explain that many victims of in-flight assault are flight attendants themselves.
“The industry had originally defined flight attendants as sex objects. And that had never been denounced. And so there’s this undertone when people come to the airplane that flight attendants are there for their enjoyment,” said Nelson.
The lack of assault intervention training for airline employees is a main contributor to the problem. “In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never experienced a conversation or any training points about how to deal with sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” said Nelson.
Many public figures have stepped forward about their experiences with misconduct onboard a flight. Randi Zuckerburg, a Silicon Valley executive and the sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg, reported being verbally harassed by a man seated near her on an Alaskan Airlines flight.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA surveyed 2,000 flight attendants about their experiences with midair harassment. One in five claimed to have witnessed or received a report from a passenger about an assault, yet law enforcement got involved less than half of the time.
Airlines claim to be committed to ensuring the safety of passengers on the journey from point A to point B, but it’s clear that some airlines have not properly equipped flight attendants with effective training on how to handle harassment and sexual abuse on flights.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter