Numerous women have begun speaking out about the airline industry’s failure to properly deal with men who masturbate or touch female passengers mid-flight, drawing attention to what appears to be a long-held industry trend of avoiding contacting law enforcement to avoid negative publicity. Speaking to BuzzFeed, Mikaela Dixon, 21, said that her neighbor on a recent United flight, a man who looked to be in his 50s, began “rubbing himself” through his pocket and “making noises and breathing heavily” before proceeding to put his hands down his pants. The behavior, she said, continued for the remaining 1.5 hours left on the flight.
“I just shook silently in my seat for hours. I just had the worst panic attack of my life,” she tweeted after the harrowing incident.
tw: sex offense
i just spent hours next to a guy who was masturbating on this flight. my bf was asleep in the window seat, i’m in the middle, and the man is in the aisle. i had no idea what to do, i couldn’t get up bc i didn’t want to go anywhere near him….
— mik (@mik_dix) August 11, 2018
Afraid to confront the man midair, she said she told a flight attendant about the man’s behavior while the plane taxied following landing in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The attendant, she said, promised to contact law enforcement. But instead, she later learned from other passengers, the alleged masturbator was confronted by United’s security personnel, asked a few questions, and then simply allowed to leave. When BuzzFeed initially contacted United about Dixon’s allegations, the airline claimed to have contacted Chicago police, only for a spokesperson to later admit that the flight crew and gate agent had elected not to do so.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors officially charged two men for sexual assault aboard an airplane in two seperate case — one involving a 22-year-old woman who was allegedly groped by a man despite her continued pleas for him to stop, and another involving a woman in her early 20s who woke to find that her neighbor had put his hand inside her underwear, touching her vagina, and placed her own hand atop his erect penis. Flight crews said they responded to the 2nd case after they found the woman curled up in a fetal position on the floor near the back of the plane.
While at least three airlines — Alaska, United and Spirit — have recently moved to promote new policies to better protect passengers from abusive men, most airlines continue to be silent on the issue. According to a survey from 2017, one in five flight attendants have dealt with reports of passenger-on-passenger sexual assault. A May poll from The Association of Flight Attendants also found that most attendants said unwanted touching and comments from passengers were common, and that nearly one in five attendants had been inappropriately touched by a passenger in the last year alone.