How Lawmakers Are Putting Pressure On Airlines To Address Their Sexual Harassment Problems

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Airline companies may soon have to reckon with sexual harassment in their house. On Thursday, in a collectively-signed letter, a group of eight bipartisan lawmakers called on airline companies to address sexual harassment within their industry. According to CNN, Virginia Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock and Florida Democrat Rep. Lois Frankel spearheaded the effort.

In a statement to Bustle, Rep. Comstock says, "During our recent hearing held by the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, we heard about the problem of sexual harassment of airline flight attendants and the need for reforms and action to establish zero tolerance policies."

The Republican representative praised recent efforts led by Alaska, United, and Spirit Airlines for vowing to protect both employees and passengers from abuse and harassment. "We trust all airlines are addressing this issue and will come forward with policies to establish zero tolerance policies throughout the industry," Rep. Comstock says in her statement.

Comstock and Frankel were joined by Democratic representatives like Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Jackie Speier of California, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, Frederica Wilson of Florida, and one male lawmaker, Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. According to a press release from Rep. Frankel, the group has called on the airline industry figures to comply with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) in order to tackle sexual harassment in the industry.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration's Aeronautical Center, almost 80 percent of flight attendants are female. In early May, the AFA released the findings in its survey of over 3,500 flight attendants from 29 American airline companies. The survey revealed that 68 percent of the surveyed flight attendants said they had experienced sexual harassment during their careers.

Leon Neal/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The AFA survey also found that 35 percent of the flight attendants said that they experienced verbal abuse from passengers in 2017. In the same year, 18 percent said it experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers. But only 7 percent formally reported their experience to higher authorities. It's possible that victims of sexual harassment do not report their experiences due to a pervasive culture of victim-blaming, which discourages people from coming forward about being sexually harassed or assaulted.

On top of that, the AFA survey revealed that 68 percent of surveyed flight attendants said they did not see any anti-sexual harassment efforts from their airline companies. But with pressure from lawmakers, that could change. Instead of waiting for the Congress to legislatively address the systemic issue of sexual harassment in the airlines industry, a letter like the one on Thursday could compel industry leaders to pick up the momentum on protecting flight attendants and passengers from abuse.

Increased focus on sexual harassment reports in the airlines industry comes a few months after the #MeToo movement took off in the fall of 2017. After the release of the AFA survey, the union's president and United Airlines flight attendant, Sara Nelson, said, "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."

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

For some, it may be shocking to learn that sexual harassment seemingly plagues the airlines industry. But lawmakers don't seem surprised. In a statement to Bustle, Rep. Frankel says, "Sexual harassment is pervasive in all industries and airlines are no exception. Industry leaders need to step up to the plate, make it clear this behavior is unacceptable, and make major organizational changes."