Nearly 70 percent of flight attendants experience 'rampant' sexual harassment, according to a new survey

  • Flight attendants are subjected to "rampant" sexual harassment, according to a survey by the AFA.
  • More than two thirds of flight attendants said they have experienced sexual harassment during their career.
  • However, just 7% reported this harassment to their employer.


For flight attendants, there are a lot of perks of the job, like travelling around the world. There are also some less glamorous secrets they will never tell you.

But you might not expect sexual harassment to be among the major problems. According to a new survey by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), sexual harassment is "rampant" in the industry.

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Flight attendant's favorite travel hacks
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Flight attendant's favorite travel hacks

Get more attentive service from your flight attendants

"While most passengers tend to choose seats that are at the front of the aircraft so that they can disembark first and have a better chance of securing their preferred meal option, flight attendants know that if you're sitting towards the back, you'll receive the most attentive service," a flight attendant with 2.5 years' experience wrote for Oyster.

"The reason is simple: We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way," she wrote. "This can cause a problem since planes often don't have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes, or the time on shorter flights to deviate from the service schedule.

"For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it's much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine," she wrote.

Iron your clothes faster

"Use your flat iron to touch up your clothes when you're in a rush and there's no time for the ironing board," a flight attendant with 30 years' experience told Business Insider.

Always sleep in clean sheets

"Don't sleep on hotel sheets that don't have creases from being folded; someone slept on them already," a flight attendant with 19 years' experience told Business Insider.

Keep the hotel room dark

"Use the clips on the pants hangers in the hotel room to clip your curtains together so there is no light coming through,"a flight attendant with 15 years' experience told Business Insider.

Avoid doing damage to your hearing 

"Avoid flying if you have a severe cold,"a fight attendant with 4 years' experience wrote on Quora. "It can damage your eardrums, and you may lose your hearing. It happened to me once — I couldn't hear properly for a week, and it hurt like hell."

Avoid being seated near a baby

"While there's no escaping (or blaming) the shrill of an upset child, you can lower your odds of sitting directly next to one by choosing a seat that's located far from the partitions on board," a flight attendant with 2.5 years' experience wrote for Oyster.

"These partitions, which go by the technical name 'bulkheads,' are the only places on an aircraft where a parent can safely secure a baby's bassinet — and are, therefore, where most children under one year old will be situated," she wrote.

Fight jet lag

"What helps me sleep is having a bedtime ritual," a flight attendant wrote on Quora.

"Stop using electronics one hour before bedtime, have a cup of tea, and read a bit," he wrote. "Usually that does the trick, but if I can't sleep after an hour I just get up, do something else, and then try again."

Don't get stuck with a heavy bag you have to check

"Less is more," a flight attendant with three years' experience told Business Insider.

"The best way to travel is to pack exactly what you need and nothing more, besides maybe a couple of extra underwear," he said. "But other than that I would pack only what I need for that specific trip."

Pack lighter

"Before your trip, call your hotel and check to see if they have a washer/dryer available," a flight attendant with one year of experience told Business Insider. "If so, bring a couple detergent packs and dryer sheets in a Ziploc bag, and it eliminates two to four days' worth of clothes, depending on your stay.

Save space in your suitcase 

"My favorite travel hack is definitely the clothes-roll technique," a flight attendant with one year of experience told Business Insider. "I am often gone from home for several days, even up to three weeks, and I save space by rolling my clothes instead of folding them."

Get through customs in a jiff

"Pay for Global Entry — it's totally worth it," an anonymous flight attendant told Business Insider.

Never miss out on free breakfast 

"If you know you're not going to be able to attend whatever complimentary meal they're offering because you're leaving before it starts or you know you're not going to be up until after it's over, check with the hotel to see if there's some kind of snack or sack lunch they can provide before or ahead of time," a flight attendant with one year of experience told Business Insider.

"Usually it's just a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, and a thing of string cheese, but that's saved my growling stomach on several occasions," they said.

Get a cheaper upgrade

Some airlines offer reduced-price upgrades the day of the flight, Celessa Dietzel, a flight attendant with three years' experience, told Business Insider. There are even first-class seats available for upgrading sometimes, she said.

"So be in the boarding area good and early during boarding, because this is when you'll hear the announcements for last-minute upgrade purchases you might be able to get," Dietzel said. "It's not for every airline, but it does happen."

Don't miss out on the first-class upgrade if you qualify for it 

"I think it's great we don't have to travel in suits and high heels anymore. You can be comfortable," Dietzel told Business Insider. "But you can also be classy and comfortable."

"Check your air carrier's rules — there are still dress codes sometimes in first class and, who knows, maybe, miracle of the day, you'll get that cheap upgrade to first class. Be comfortable, but if you can avoid wearing your pajamas, that's great," she said.

Get free stuff ... sometimes

United Airlines flight attendant Robert Bingochea previously told Business Insider that, if something goes wrong on your flight, flight attendants are empowered with resolution options, from offering a free drink or meal to upgrading fliers and giving them more points. "We can't fix everything, but at least we can try to give it a chance and try to make things acceptable," he said.

But there's a catch.

"Complaining gets some people free stuff," a flight attendant with 30 years' experience told Business Insider. "But with the airline computer systems today, we can track all the free stuff given. We know who takes advantage."

SEE ALSO: A day in the life of a United Airlines flight attendant, who woke up before 3 a.m. and ran circles around me for 9 hours

DON'T MISS: 11 truths about flying only flight attendants know

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The AFA surveyed 3,568 flight attendants from 29 US airlines, using the gender ratio which is consistent with national averages of 80% women to 20% men. Results showed that 68% of flight attendants had experienced sexual harassment at some point during their flying career.

About 35% said they'd experienced verbal sexual harassment. Of those, 68% said it had happened three or more times in the past year alone, and a third said it had happened five times.

Worryingly, 18% said a passenger had physically sexually harassed them in the past year. Over 40% of those participants said it had happened three or more times.

Participants of the survey described instances where passengers would make "nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty" comments.

"They also report being subjected to passengers' explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request[s] for sexual 'favors' and pornographic videos and pictures," said the union.

"While much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on high-profile cases in the entertainment industry and politics, this survey underscores why AFA has long been pushing to eradicate sexism and harassment within our own industry," said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA.

"The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about 'coffee, tea, or me' needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past."

Despite the high prevalence of harassment, just 7% of the flight attendants who experienced the abuse reported it to their employer. It could be because they don't trust their employer to do anything, as 68% of respondents said they haven't noticed any employer effort to address sexual harassment at work.

It's not just passengers flight attendants have to be concerned about, either. An article in Cosmopolitan in February collected stories from 12 flight attendants working for several different airlines. They described worrying, invasive behaviour from flight attendant colleagues and pilots.

One attendant called Alyssa said about one pilot: "He touched my hand and put it on his leg and said, 'This is my wallet, but don't be alarmed if you feel something else.' And he asked me if I was more attracted to him or the other pilot, both of which are in their mid-50s. While we were dancing, the other pilot actually tried to slap my butt too."

Pilots tend to be a close-knit group, and reportedly warn each other about flight attendants who might be less than agreeable.

"They can say they don't want you on their flight, or kick you off a flight, which means you don't get paid," another attendant said.

"It's time for all of us — airlines, unions, regulators, legislators and passengers — to put a stop to behaviors that can no longer be condoned," said Nelson. "The dignity and well-being of flight attendants and the safety of all travelers depend on it."

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