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Flying this weekend? FBI says mixing alcohol and sleeping pills on flights increases risk of sexual assault

The #MeToo motion has reached 35,000 feet.

Several years in the past, when she was once traveling as a passenger on a flight, Sara Nelson woke up to an assault: Her under the influence of alcohol seatmate, a person she didn’t know, was once groping her breasts and her crotch.

As a skilled flight attendant, Nelson concept she would know what to do. But she found herself frozen, scared to call for lend a hand and risk potentially escalating the attack or — worse — that she wouldn’t be believed.

“It was once complicated and mortifying,” said Nelson, now the world president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing 50,000 employees. “From a non-public revel in, I will perceive what it’s like for a victim to head through all of that and sweetness in the event you should file it, or if anyone will consider you and care.”

One in 5 flight attendants has witnessed a passenger being assaulted or had an assault reported to them, according to a 2017 survey of just about 2,000 flight attendants. However, the vast majority of flight attendants have no particular coaching regarding sexual assault, the survey found. The issue has been brought into center of attention by means of #MeToo, the motion highlighting women’s studies with sexual assault and harassment throughout other industries.

In addition to passengers’ personal tales about sexual assault on planes, maximum flight attendants say they’ve been burdened at the job, a May 2018 survey by means of AFA found. “Now, there may be political and societal momentum to take this critically,” Nelson said. “The males — and it’s mostly males — who run the airline trade could be shocked to know what is happening on their planes.”

‘Why should I have to move? I am the one being sexually burdened!’
Randi Zuckerberg writing about being burdened on an Alaska Airlines flight

Recent high-profile cases have called attention to the problem. Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook FB, -Zero.52%  Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, reported being burdened on an Alaska Airlines flight in November ALK, +2.48%

In a Facebook put up, she said flight attendants requested her if she want to transfer seats and reportedly requested the passenger, “Are you behaving nowadays?” Zuckerberg said she then discovered, “Why should I have to move? I am the one being sexually burdened!” (The company pledged to “absolutely examine” the incident, and two executives spoke for my part to Zuckerberg.)

In March, a Delta Airlines passenger sued the airline for allegedly failing to correctly cope with an onboard sexual assault, San Francisco’s ABC News 7 reported. A Delta spokesperson informed ABC News 7 the company couldn’t comment at the lawsuit, but was once “disheartened” by means of the incident. “We take all accounts of sexual assault very critically and conduct routine critiques of our processes to verify the safety and security of our shoppers remains a most sensible precedence,” Delta informed the news station.

“The assaults normally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark,” according to a weblog put up published in April at the Federal Bureau of Investigation reputable web page. “The victims are usually in middle or window seats, napping, and coated with a blanket or jacket. They file waking as much as their seatmate’s fingers inside of their clothing or underwear.”

Sara Nelson, world president of the Association of Flight Attendants.
The FBI has advice to lend a hand give protection to yourself whilst flying

“It is something other people should be anxious about,” a spokeswoman for the FBI informed MarketWatch. “We in point of fact want other people to file it to us. We can examine and we've a consultant who too can work with victims.”

The company has an inventory of precautions for travelers to stay protected:

• “Recognize that mixing alcohol with napping pills or other medicine on an overnight flight will increase your risk.”

• “Trust your gut. Offenders will continuously check their victims, on occasion pretending to brush towards them to see how they react or if they get up.”

• “If your seatmate is a stranger, regardless of how polite she or he might seem, keep the armrest between you down.”

• “If you are arranging for a kid to fly unaccompanied, try to reserve an aisle seat so flight attendants can keep a closer watch on them.”

• “If an incident happens, file it instantly to the flight staff and ask that they document the attacker’s identification and file the incident.”

In reaction to court cases about onboard attacks and harassment, Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, offered the Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act in Congress earlier this month. If passed, the bill would require clear insurance policies and procedures regarding sexual assault on airways.

The act would increase the penalty for interfering with staff individuals to $35,000, direct the Department of Transportation to collect knowledge annually on sexual assault, and require airways to display signage on planes describing their sexual assault insurance policies.

“We wish to make it clear this is a disgusting act and we will be able to have zero tolerance as an airline for it,” Nelson said. “The extra we talk about this, the safer everyone goes to be.”

A majority of flight attendants say they’re burdened at the job

Sexual assault and harassment additionally affects individuals who work on planes. Some 68% of flight attendants say they've skilled sexual harassment right through their careers, according to a May 2018 survey of greater than 3,500 flight attendants from 29 airways conducted by means of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Of the ones, 18% said they were the goals of sexual assault, including groping and unwanted kisses from passengers. Only 7% of flight attendants who skilled abuse reported it to their employers.

Meg, a flight attendant based in Los Angeles who works for a significant U.S. airline, said she has been the objective of numerous incidents of harassment over her occupation, including a person cornering her within the galley and important to see her breasts or other males grabbing her inappropriately. She said she by no means reported any of the incidents because she didn’t suppose her company would take it critically.

“We by no means had the gear to deal with scenarios like those, so I have at all times just brushed it off,” she said. “Now with the #MeToo motion, our company is addressing it. I assume a host of famous other people have to say something for other people to care.”

‘We by no means had the gear to deal with scenarios like those.’
Meg, a flight attendant who says she was once the objective of many incidents of harassment

Several airways have publicly clarified their harassment insurance policies as protection of the problem has intensified. United Airlines UAL, +1.34%   CEO Oscar Munoz said in December the company has “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment of either flight attendants of passengers.

A historical past of sexualizing flight attendants in pop culture has fueled persistent sexism within the trade, Nelson said. Ads put an emphasis on what staff are dressed in and tempted passengers with lines corresponding to “I’m Cheryl. Fly me.” A 1960s-era joke featuring a stewardess saying “Coffee, tea or me?” — borrowed from an apocryphal flight attendant memoir — captured the perspective that flight attendants existed for (male) shoppers’ pleasure.

“Time is up for the trade to put an end to its sexist past,” she said.

Reporting attacks takes several steps

“Sexual assault aboard plane — which usually takes the form of unwanted touching — is a legal that can land offenders in jail,” according to the FBI’s April 2018 file. Disobeying an plane staff is a federal offense and perpetrators can withstand 20 years in jail for interfering with flight staff, relying at the rate.

And yet it’s a in particular fraught issue on planes, said Paul Hudson, president of, a client advocacy staff. “There are some unique problems when assault happens on a plane,” he said. “You are in a confined house and can’t get away.”

The crimes also are difficult by means of the fact that victims have to take several steps to file them — greater than they might if the assault happened at the flooring, Hudson added.

‘You are in a confined house and can’t get away.’
Paul Hudson, president of, a client advocacy staff

If a passenger is assaulted on a plane, she or he is meant to file the incident to a flight attendant, who will then alert the captain. The captain then has to inform a flight dispatcher at the flooring, who then contacts law enforcement, Hudson said. has sent a variety of letters to the Department of Justice lobbying for a way to shorten this chain of conversation, Hudson said.

“If an ordinary crime required victims to head through 3 or 4 steps to get to police rather than just calling 911, a lot of crimes would pass unreported — particularly if part of that chain had a commercial hobby in not reporting crime,” he said.

The Association of Flight Attendants is also lobbying for extra clear steering on reporting those incidents, and a streamlined reporting procedure to cut down the reaction time.

Some 38 cases of in-flight sexual assault were reported to the FBI right through the 2014 fiscal year, according to an FBI weblog in April 2018. In the last fiscal year, that rose to 63 reported cases. But FBI special agent David Gates, who is based at Los Angeles International Airport and incessantly investigates such cases, says it’s most probably that the choice of incidents, assuming that many pass unreported, are most probably a lot higher.

The risk of onboard attacks is on the upward push, flight attendants say

The risk of sexual assault within the air is on the upward push, Nelson said, because airways are shoving extra passengers on more and more crowded planes.

“When you get extra other people packed in closer together, there is a lower line of sight and perpetrators really feel emboldened because their victim is closer to them,” Nelson said. “In an extraordinary way, you will have extra privacy when nobody can see since you’re surrounded by means of other people.”

‘If your seatmate is a stranger ...keep the armrest between you down.’
FBI steering to offer protection to passengers towards sexual harassment and assault

The airline trade has slashed capability by means of greater than 50% within the last 20 years, according to knowledge tracked by means of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Major carriers like American Airlines AAL, +1.78% Delta Airlines DAL, +1.87% and United Airlines have shriveled passenger spaces to save on prices in recent years. Meanwhile, airways have reduce flight attendant staffing on flights.

To successfully file those crimes, airline staff need higher coaching and a uniform way to file them, Nelson said. “We have no idea how prevalent assault is, and if there isn’t a reporting process, people are less susceptible to take it critically,” she added.

“In a way, the perpetrators are hanging themselves at risk, because they are trapped and surrounded by means of witnesses once they land,” Nelson said.

Kari Paul is a non-public finance reporter based in New York. You can practice her on Twitter @kari_paul.

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