The year 2017 will always be remembered as a time when victims of sexual misconduct decided to come forward with their stories across various industries. From Hollywood to Silicon Valley and from Capitol Hill to corporate America, the stories of people who endured sexual harassment in the workplace are multiplying, and business analysts believe that the airline industry could be next.
A recent report published by the Reuters international news agency lists a few high-profile incidents featuring in-flight harassment and even assault. In one situation, a teenage actress from India complained that she was groped by a male passenger aboard a domestic flight. Another situation involved the sibling of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Randi, who took to social media to complain about sexual harassment aboard an Alaska Airlines flight.
An airline industry analyst interviewed by Reuters explained that the two aforementioned incidents are just the tip of the iceberg; they were promptly addressed by the airlines because their corporate image was on the line after negative social media commentary, but hundreds of other cases often go unreported or are not handled properly.
The news report by Reuters included comments from flight crews, passengers and airline employees who believe that sexual misconduct incidents are not managed properly by air carriers; most cases are either ignored or kept secret under the guise of protecting the identities of the victims. In 2016, the number of cases reported by airlines was lower than 215 despite more than three billion passengers transported. One of the problems in this regard is that airlines often shift the burden of reporting to the victims, who are supposed to contact law enforcement on their own, and who are often told to do so after their flights without the assistance of airline personnel.
In-flight harassment situations are not limited to passenger interactions; in fact, crew members, particularly younger flight attendants, are often victimized. Passengers are more likely than crew members to speak out; however, cases involving passengers harassed by crew members tend to be handled very quietly.
According to a survey conducted among members of the United States Association of Flight Attendants, 20 percent of crew members have witnessed sexual misconduct between passengers during flights, and most of these witnesses handled these situations by winging it, so to speak, because they were not aware of airline protocols that they should have followed. Many of these cases were misfiled as unruly behavior, but this practice may come to an end in 2018.