In an interview with CNN, four women recounted stories of sexual harassment and assault they experienced during commercial flights. The interviewees — whose experiences are not limited to one particular airline — expressed their surprise that during the time of the assaults, the airline and their employees seemed less than concerned with what was happening; many, the women said, seemed confused as to the correct protocol to handle such a situation.
“I felt like no one, no one that was supposed to be in charge could handle the situation,” recalled Katie Campos, a passenger on a United Airlines flight last week who said was subjected to harassment and groping by an intoxicated male passenger. Almost immediately upon seating, Campos said, the passenger began to harass both herself and her fellow seatmate — also a woman. She said he forcibly touched them and asked to kiss them despite their pleas for him to stop. “He grabbed my upper thigh, like in the crotch area, and he grabbed it pretty forcefully,” Campos explained to CNN. Only when she refused to take her seat again did she feel the flight attendants took her seriously.
According to FBI investigations, sexual assaults taking place in midair have increased by 66 percent from fiscal year 2014 to 2017. According to the bureau, 63 investigations dealing with sexual assault on an aircraft have been opened in this fiscal year alone. In a survey conducted last year of over 2,000 flight attendants registered with The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, one in five said they had personally received a report of passenger on passenger assault during a flight.
“In my 22 years as a flight attendant,” United Airlines flight attendant Sarah Nelson told CNN, “I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault.” While policies do exist, Nelson went on to explain that she feels they are sorely lacking in training in terms of implementation and many flight attendants are ill-equipped to address inappropriate and often criminal behavior.
According to Alison McAfee, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, the industry trade group that represents commercial airlines, with regard to these types of incidences, member airlines “take these matters seriously and do not tolerate harassment in any form.”
For Campos, her in-flight experience has forever changed her faith in the security of flying and the ability of flight attendants to ensure passenger safety. “It felt very much like the only reason this came to an end at all is that the flight landed. And we were at a gate, and the lights came on.”
Below, watch the full interview with Campos and other women.
Read the full story at CNN.