For Flight Attendants, Sexual Assault Isn’t Just Common, It’s Almost A Given
Based on accounts shared with HuffPost from both current and former flight attendants, Bright’s story is among many instances of sexual harassment and assault in the skies. As more and more stories of sexual assault across industries come to the forefront, it’s impossible to ignore the dynamics of the airline industry, which are inherently gendered with origins in the sexualization of women.
From unwanted advances to groping and forcing physical contact, assault and harassment are realities seemingly accepted as commonplace by the flight attendants we spoke with, all of whom attested to various levels of unwanted physical contact during their time on the job.
It’s what drives some people, like former flight attendant Lanelle Henderson, out.
Henderson worked for now-defunct Kiwi Airlines in the ’90s and again for a little under a year for now-defunct Airtran in 2004. She told HuffPost that it was her experience in the 2000s that turned her off from remaining in the industry.
Once, a male passenger who’d been drinking began making advances toward her throughout a flight to Dallas–Fort Worth, she told HuffPost.
“He would first grab my hand and compliment me, which in the beginning was flattering,” she said. “But then he grabbed and rubbed my leg. It was mostly embarrassing because the man behind him was looking at me as if to say, ‘What are you going to do?’ And I was just startled and a newbie and trying to be polite.”
Henderson aboard an AirTrain flight during training for her time as a flight attendant for the airline in 2004. (Lanelle Henderson)
Henderson said that the customer blocked her in the galley from moving between cabins. He eventually grabbed her butt. “The man behind him said, ‘Sir, enough already. This girl is not here for your pleasure.’” she said.
Flight attendants told HuffPost that the “customer is always right” attitude mandated by much of the service industry often prevents many flight attendants from confronting in-flight harassment themselves, Henderson said.
They’re not going to stop the plane. And then everyone’s going to be mad at you; you’re not a team player, you’re difficult.
Dawn Arthur also became disillusioned during eight years working as a flight attendant in both the commercial and private sector.
“I was really excited [before I became a flight attendant],” she said. “I thought it was so cool. But then you find out that there is no support in the industry. The pilots aren’t trained to handle assault and they don’t want to hear it. It’s not their job.”
Arthur, who told HuffPost she’s been “pushed into a corner and felt up” by passengers, said flight attendants may feel discouraged from taking action in order to avoid an in-flight delay or disturbance.