Sexual assault is an austere problem and needs serious discourse, whether perpetrated on ground or 350,000 ft in the air. Not only female travelers, but airlines crew members have been subject to incidences of molestation and nuisance by co-passengers and unruly male flyers. Not restricted to territorial borders, sexual mugging has risen as a global challenge, contesting airline companies to embrace stringent policies to address this universal issue and take pro-active measures to safeguard female commuters around the world.
In 2006, a PWD Minister was reportedly apprehended for molesting a woman on a Kingfisher flight. In another distasteful episode, a sleeping female passenger was allegedly groped by a male traveler flying business class in January 2017. Before one could absorb such shockingly disrespectful spites taking place on-board, a following event blew minds of people on June 17, when a man was caught masturbating mid-air in the busy Indian carrier, IndiGo. Upon arrival in Delhi, he was arrested for such a scandalous offence. Perhaps, these events are bare glimpses of the countless cases that go unreported. While assault against passengers has witnessed an incline, flight attendants have been suffering hostile working conditions since a long time.
Primarily, any sort of undesired and inappropriate gesture, whether touching, kissing or insolent comment is to be regarded as an assault. Female cabin crew are vulnerable to such harassment’s owing to their physical proximity furthered by limited cabin space. This often poses a challenge in performing their official responsibilities as imploring male predators find it accessible to threaten women attendants. Any form of unsolicited behavior is disgraceful and necessitates strict intervention from the airline companies to prevent and act upon its perpetrators. A couple of months back, a male passenger on Burbank bound Alaska Airlines aircraft addressed a flight attendant as “ooh sexy”, while she was demonstrating the use of life vests. On asking him to be respectful, the audacious offender responded stating that he was “just fooling around”. The flight was diverted to offload him.
Several media reports brought to light that most airlines are widely ill-equipped to handle instances of sexual harassment owing to reasons of defaming the airline’s reputation as well as the fear of being sued if the allegations prove false. The study also revealed the airlines’ concern about the expenses it may have to endure in severe situations which could require flight diversion or an unplanned landing. Aviation trainers however mention the presence of a standard procedure for dealing with eruptive incidences of harassment on aircraft’s. Typically, when a passenger complains of a provocative gesture, the flight attendant on duty is required to verbally restrain the offensive co-passenger, while simultaneously informing the pilot. In many cases, either the offender is re-seated or a male cabin crew assisting on the flight is made to sit next to the reprobate individual, so as to ensure that he doesn’t have further opportunities of repeating similar actions. In this process, the pilot notifies the airport security staff, who then prepares to detain and interrogate the accused immediately upon landing. The in-flight center files a detailed report in association with the complainant, fostering appropriate action by informing the local police.
However, though the protocol is more or less similar across most carriers, many female travelers facing harassment deny any proactive stand taken by airlines authorities in handling such situations. To acknowledge the need and condemn miscreant acts mid-air, many airlines has a mandatory to include training programs to initiate gender sensitization drills for both ground level and cabin staff to ascertain better preparedness and sensitive handling of assault cases. Several international flights have diverted routes as a stern action against molesters and gropers. Recently, the Vistara Airlines operating across India launched their policy of not assigning a middle seat to their female passengers, as a pre-emptive measure to safeguard women’s travelers comfort.
Addressing sexual harassment is eventually a matter of equality. While mechanisms and policies to address sexual harassment cases are prevalent across airlines; application of uniform policies and awareness among both passengers and airlines staff needs to be affirmative and better enforced. It is an essential pre-requisite for all workplaces to ensure safety and guarantee optimum support to women in all spheres of life, whether working, travelling or traversing the skies. After all the flying experience should be welcoming and not a harrowing one!
Article by Rochita.