Airline policies

Stop harassing the flight attendants

 

We didn’t need the #MeToo movement to know that flight attendants are often subjected to verbal and physical sexual harassment on the job.

But let’s hope the #MeToo movement – and the recent survey of more than 3,500 flight attendants at 29 different airline by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA – puts a stop to it.

According to the study, more than two-thirds of flight attendants in the U.S. have experienced sexual harassment during their flying careers.

More than one-in-three flight attendants say they have experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers, and nearly one-in-five have experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the last year alone.

What’s being done about it? Not enough.

While Alaska, United, and even Spirit have taken some step to address the issue, 68 percent of flight attendants say they saw no efforts by airlines to address workplace sexual harassment over the last year.

“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, AFA President. “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.”

Here’s more detail from the survey results:

*35 percent of flight attendants experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers in the last year. Of those, 68 percent faced it three or more times, and a third five or more times in the past year.

Flight attendants described the verbal sexual harassment as comments that are “nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty.”

*18 percent of flight attendants experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the last year. More than 40% of those suffered physical abuse three or more times. This type of harassment included having their breasts, buttocks and crotch area “touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed, and fondled” both on top of and under their uniforms. Other abuse included passengers cornering or lunging at them followed by unwanted hugs, kisses and humping.

*Only 7 percent of the flight attendants who experienced abuse have reported sexual harassment to their employer. More often, flight attendants said they respond to verbal and sexual harassment by avoiding the passenger, directly addressing the passenger about their behavior or using another method to try to diffuse or deflect the situation.

 

Blame the peacock: United Airlines’ new rules for emotional support animals.

Just days after refusing to let a woman fly with what she claimed is her emotional support peacock, United Airlines has issued notice that, starting March 1, there will be new rules for bringing emotional support animals onboard.

United’s policy for those traveling with service animals (guide dogs and other animals trained to perform assistive tasks) currently does not require advance notice or documentation and is not changing.

The new rules will apply to emotional support animals.

Right now, customers with emotional support animals are required to give United’s Accessibility Desk 48-hours’ notice AND a letter from a mental health professional.

Starting March 1, in addition to 48-hour notice and an enhanced letter from a mental health professional, the airline will require anyone traveling with an emotional support animal to also provide additional documentation including:

  • The customer must provide confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s behavior.
  • The customer must also provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian. The veterinarian must also affirm that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.

Today United also reminded travelers that  hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, sugar gliders, non-household birds, exotic animals and animals not properly cleaned or those that are really smelly are not allowed in airplane cabins.

“Year-over-year, we have seen a 75 percent increase in customers bringing emotional support animals onboard and as a result have experienced a significant increase in onboard incidents involving these animals,” United said in a statement. “We understand that other carriers are seeing similar trends. The Department of Transportation’s rules regarding emotional support animals are not working as they were intended to, prompting us to change our approach in order to ensure a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) said in a statement that is it thrilled with United Airlines’ announcement:

“United has taken a very thoughtful, responsible approach to this issue. The airline’s increased requirements for emotional support animals will reduce fraud and protect the legitimate need of animal assistance for passengers with disabilities and veterans,” said Sara Nelson, international president of AFA. “This is about maintaining safety, health and security for passengers and crew, while ensuring accessibility for those who need it.”

Delta Air Lines recently announced that, starting March 1,  it will be changing its rules for passengers flying with service dogs or emotional support animals.

Expect other airlines, including American Airlines, to update their rules on flying with service animals and emotional support or ‘comfort’ animals soon.

Horizon Air president apologizes to mistreated passenger

Over the weekend, a Bend, Ore., man took to Facebook to describe the incivility he alleged was inflicted on a fellow passenger on an Horizon Air flight out of Oregon’s Redmond Municipal Airport.

Cameron Clark witnessed what he described on Facebook as “the worst of humanity” when airline staff on duty appeared to ignore and refuse special assistance to a couple he thought was “disabled/mentally and physically challenged.”

Clark estimated the couple to be in their 70s and said that the man later told him he had late-stage Parkinson’s disease, that his companion had MS and that he was trying to get to Bellingham, Wash., to see his daughter.

“He had a hard time walking,” Clark wrote on Facebook, “No one offered him a wheelchair or asked how they could be helpful. He stumbled off toward the safety inspection line. Predictably, he didn’t understand/comprehend their restriction of his luggage, and got stuck in security.”

Throughout the weekend, Clark’s Facebook post created a flurry of negative and outraged comments, which Alaska Airlines responded to with a series of Facebook posts of its own.

I spoke with Alaska Airlines spokesperson Paul McElroy on Monday morning and he told me that while the passenger did not get on his Friday flight, he did fly Saturday and is visiting with his daughter at an alternate location. McElroy said the airline refunded the passenger’s initial ticket price and provided complimentary round-trip transportation for his trip.

“There are things we should have done better,” said McElroy, who added that the president of Horizon Airlines was preparing a post to that effect. (Regional airline Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines are both owned by the Alaska Air Group, which is based in Seattle.)

Coincidentally, on Monday the airline was meeting with Eric Lipp, the executive director of Open Doors Organization, an independent disability advocacy group. “We’re going to leverage their visit and ask them to help us review what we did with this customer to see if we could have done better,” McElroy said.

Lipp said there are laws to help passengers with disabilities and extra services that airlines can and are willing to provide. “But the law says the passenger has to self-identify,” said Lipp. “Otherwise, it’s a puzzle. The breakdown here is that the passenger didn’t self-identify and the airline didn’t have the right codes in the system to get him services he was entitled to.”

Lipp had other advice for passengers with disabilities and much of it was rolled into the apology Horizon Air president Glenn Johnson posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon. Here’s part of that statement, which includes some helpful tips.

“…First and foremost, we’ve determined that we could and should have handled this better and I apologize to our passenger on behalf of all of us at Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. This experience has reminded us of the importance of assisting passengers with disabilities and making sure every one of them receives the special care they may need.

The information we’ve gathered during our review will certainly improve our efforts going forward.”

…Alaska and Horizon have partnered with Open Doors Organization, an independent disability advocacy group, to review employees’ handling of the situation and suggest improvements in the airlines’ disability, awareness and sensitivity training. Eric Lipp, Open Doors Organization’s executive director, advises passengers with a disability who are traveling to:

  • Self-disclose to the airline any assistance you may need before you arrive at the airport. This could include an escort or wheelchair assistance through security, to the gate, and while boarding and exiting the plane.
  • Ask the airline if you prefer to have a personal assistant escort you to the gate. Most airlines will issue passes to personal assistants to help passengers with disabilities get to or from the gate area.
  • Plan ahead and arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before your flight departs, which allows time to check luggage, obtain wheelchair services, get through security and board the flight.

(Part of this post first appeared in my NBC News story Witness blasts Alaska Airlines for treatment of fellow passenger.

Proper flying attire: baggy pants or hotpants?

I really can’t tell you what thrilled me more today. The photo (above) that Jill Tarlow took of a fellow airline passenger and shared with The San Francisco Chronicle as part of the national discussion about proper flying attire – or all the other photos of this man people began sending me after I wrote about about him on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin (What will get you kicked off US Airways? Saggy pants or underpants?)

Jessica Villardi took this photo in May

Sean Stecker spotted him in Phoenix around Christmas

And someone else snapped him in this fetching outfit in Baltimore.

You can read more about the mystery man here, but no matter what you think of his outfits, he – and the University of New Mexico football player recently arrested at San Francisco International Airport for allegedly refusing to follow a US Airways crew members’ request to hike up his saggy pants – are fueling a fresh debate about the rights of passengers at the airport and in the air.

Hats off – or on – for airline pilots


[Photo: Brian Losito/Courtesy Air Canada]

 

Next time you’re at the airport, keep a close eye on the pilots heading to work. Like the Air Canada pilots pictured above, they all look pretty snappy in their uniforms.

But are they wearing their caps?

It could depend on whether or not that pilot is worrying about hat hair. Or looking dorky.

Or whether or not their employer still makes that hat an optional uniform accessory.

Here’s the Capless Captains story I wrote about the topic for msbnc.com.

 

Airlines to airline pilots: You can leave your hat on. Or not.

Last month, American Airlines changed its operations manual to let pilots know it’s OK to go hatless. The carrier is just the latest among North American airlines that have made the hat an optional part of airline captains’ and first officers’ uniforms.

“The reason we made it optional is because it got to be too hard to police,” said George Tucker, American’s chief pilot at San Francisco International Airport. “Hats just seem to be slowly fading away.”

The rule about wearing a hat “is determined airline by airline,” said Doug Baj, spokesperson for the Air Line Pilots Association, International. “However, there are some uniform manual policies that still technically require it.”

For several years now, wearing hats has been optional for flights crews on Alaska, Southwest and several other airlines.

United Airlines changed its hat policy about four years ago. “Hats are part of our pilot uniforms, but are not required,” said spokesperson Megan McCarthy.

Hat hair and mistaken identity
Pilots have a range of opinions about hats, with some saying it makes them look more professional and others saying that they are frequently mistaken for skycaps.

Mike Cingari, a San Francisco-based pilot for American, is delighted that after 27 years, he’s now free to leave his hat at home.

“I’m against hats. They mess up your hair, promote baldness and it looks really stupid to be walking around with a hat on,” said Cingari. “Plus you have to remember it.”

Cingari has found that sometimes his hat causes confusion inside the airport or out on the curb. “Passengers ask you directions to the bathroom or think you’re a skycap and ask you to take their bags,” he said.

Karsten Stadler, an assistant chief pilot at Southwest Airlines, has also been mistaken for someone else when wearing his pilot’s hat. “I once had a man get very angry with me for not bringing the van around in time. But as many pilots say they’ve been confused for someone else, there are others who say the hat helps them get recognized,” said Stadler.

Although his employer now allows pilots to forgo their hats, Kent Wien says he’ll probably continue to wear his pilot cap to and through airports.

Wien, who writes the “Cockpit Chronicles” column for the Gadling.com travel blog, said: “It kind of finishes off the uniform and gives a more professional appearance. I think passengers want to see that. Otherwise, you don’t look much different than the ticket agent or a crew member.”

There’s also the issue of safety. American Airlines’ Tucker makes sure his hat is always with him. “Because if, God forbid, I have that day when I have to do an emergency evacuation on my airplane, part of my responsibility is to get passengers together and move them away from the plane. The hat is a visible symbol, and we know customers respond to authority,” said Tucker.

Hatted vs. hatless
“It’s like the white coat on the doctor,” said Janet Bednarek, a history professor specializing in aviation history at the University of Dayton in Ohio. “You want to be able to tell the captain from anyone else.”

While some airlines are just now ditching the pilot hats, others, such as JetBlue and Virgin America, never had hats as part of the official uniform. “Our pilots’ all black uniforms are functional yet hip,” said Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini. “We do not require caps … but we have found that our pilots do prefer a uniform shirt that has epaulettes or markings that differentiate them from in-flight and guest service teammates.”

At least two North American airlines still require a pilot to wear a full uniform, including a hat, whenever they’re in the public’s view: Air Canada and Delta Air Lines.

“The hat helps identify the pilots and makes them stand out from other crew members, passengers and business people,” said Captain Jay Musselman, director of flight standards and quality for Air Canada.

Hats reflect “leadership and professionalism,” said Delta Air Lines spokesperson Gina Laughlin. “The hat and double-breasted blazer give Delta pilots a sharp, professional appearance.”

Frank Abagnale thinks the airline pilot hat can also be a test of authenticity.

He should know. In the 1960s, Abagnale gained notoriety for forging more than $2 million in bad checks and for adopting a variety of fake identities, including a doctor, a lawyer and, most famously, a Pan American World Airways pilot. Abagnale, whose exploits were depicted in the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” is now a fraud prevention consultant for corporations and the FBI and explained, via e-mail, why he thinks pilots should keep their hats:

“The emblems on their hats, as well as their wings, are actually two of the most difficult things for someone to obtain … removing the requirement of the hat makes it one step easier to assume the role of a pilot.”