flight attendant

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.


Want to be a flight attendant?

United flight attendant trainee practicing serving a premium class meal

Although flying itself may not be as glamorous and carefree and unusual an experience as the vintage advertisements tell us, being a flight attendant still offers some cool travel perks and a paycheck.

So, during a visit to Houston to observe a day of flight attendant training for United Airlines, I was not totally surprised to learn that it is still not uncommon for someone to apply for the job and get accepted into the training program having never flown in a plane.

Vonn Crosby, now an experienced United flight attendant and a Service Training Team Leader for Inflight Training, was one of those people – and it turned out just fine for her.

Vonn Crosby_a Service Training Team Leader- for United Airlines

And whether they’ve flown before or not, it will probably turn out just fine for the students I joined for a day of international service training that included learning how to prep and serve a premium class meal.


See my full story about some of the skills you’ll need to become a flight attendant in my piece over at the Runway Girl network.

Flight attendant fired for breastfeeding cover-up comment


Julia Bernstein, a 32 year-old, New York based flight attendant for Virgin America, said she was fired from her job on June 2, “because I asked a lady who was breast feeding in one of the last rows to please cover up,” on a recent full-flight from Los Angeles to New York.

“With the constant line for the bathroom being right over her, people were feeling uncomfortable and asked me to have her cover up,” said Bernstein. “The lady’s breast was out and revealed everything.”

In a telephone interview this morning, Bernstein told me said that she asked the breastfeeding mom if she had a blanket. “I tried to be matter of fact and said, “Well, you need to cover up.”

Shortly afterwards, Bernstein said the woman’s husband became upset and asked if covering up while breastfeeding was an airline policy or if she made it up. “He said what I was doing was illegal. I told him it was not a policy, I was just trying to fix a situation,” said Bernstein.

The lead flight attendant then stepped in. “She talked to the husband and said they were fine,” said Bernstein.

But evidently they were not.

“The reason Virgin fired me is because they felt I did not apologize enough to the passenger or deal properly with the situation, even though there is no proper training by Virgin America on how to deal with this type of a situation,” said Bernstein.

Abby Lunardini, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Virgin America said that for privacy reasons the airline cannot disclose specifics of the termination but shared this statement:

“Our in-flight teammates are trained to deal with a number of situations in-flight, including this one. We absolutely do accommodate breastfeeding mothers in-flight. If a situation should arise where fellow guests are uncomfortable, our teammates are also trained to try to re-seat the guest uncomfortable with the situation.”

Bernstein appeared in a commercial for the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) that aired during “Fly Girls,” a reality TV show featuring four Virgin America flight attendants that aired for less than two months in 2010. She also said she’d been reprimanded before for what a passenger considered to be an inappropriate remark in response to complaints about an item on the in-flight menu and, after being late for a flight, was on probation.

In this situation, however, Bernstein feels she used “good judgment acted appropriately and did what any good flight attendant would have done.”

Telling a breastfeeding mother to cover up is a sensitive and potentially costly issue for airlines. In March,  Delta Air Lines and two other airline companies reached a settlement with Emily Gillette, who in 2006 was ordered off a plane in Vermont when she refused to cover herself up while breastfeeding her baby.

In response, outraged mothers staged “nurse-ins” at close to 20 other airports.

Confessions of a flight attendant

During her 17 years as a flight attendant, Heather Poole has not only been pouring sodas and telling passengers to fasten their seatbelts, she’s been taking notes. Copious notes.

Now, in an offbeat memoir, Poole is dishing about flight attendants’ lives in the air and on the ground and the often outrageous behavior of both passengers and other crew members.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Poole for msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin about her new book “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.”

Q: Why did you want to write a book about your time in the sky?
A: Airlines have had so much tight control on their image that people have no idea what the reality is. I wrote the book so people will have a better understanding of the life.

Q: So what made you want the life of a flight attendant?
A:  My mother. She’s also the reason I didn’t want to become a flight attendant. Whenever anything would go wrong in my life, she’d always suggest applying to an airline. I didn’t officially decide to become a flight attendant until I didn’t get a raise at the company I worked for. I had seen a “Flight attendant wanted” ad in the paper and decided to go for it. At $14 an hour, I figured, “Why not?” It might be fun, and I could travel and meet new people. Seventeen years later, I’m still flying.   

Q: Was that first job difficult to get?
A: The first airline I interviewed with didn’t hire me. It turns out “glamour and free travel passes” is not the correct answer to the question, “Why do you want to become a flight attendant?”

Q: Obviously you did eventually get hired. Is “Barbie Boot Camp” really what flight attendant training is called? And what is it like?
A: It’s not really called Barbie Boot Camp, but that’s our pet term for it. Basically, it’s seven-and-a-half weeks of hell. The only thing I can compare it to is being on “American Idol” during Hollywood Week. It’s not that what we were learning was difficult, but we were under a lot of pressure and completely sleep deprived due to late night study groups and early morning drill tests. When it came to commanding evacuations, we had three shots to get it right.  If we did something wrong, an instructor would stop us and ask us to do it again. One small slip, one point in the wrong direction, and it was buh bye, adios, sayonara!

Q: Why did you stick with it after your first job with Sun Jet International [a long-defunct, low-fare, charter airline]?  
A: In that chapter, I write about the jump seat falling off the wall during landing, the passenger who followed me into the [airport] bathroom to rip me a new one through the bathroom stall over a flight delay and the passenger who was escorted off the plane in handcuffs but then wound up in a neighboring booth at a local restaurant after the flight. The crazy thing is that’s when I decided I really wanted to be a flight attendant. After experiencing all that, and more, I applied to another airline. I wanted a career, not just a job, with an airline I could be proud of.

Q: You also write about crash pads. What are they and what really happens there?
A: Did you ever see that reality show with the Virgin flight attendants who all shared a million dollar home near the beach in Venice? That was not a crash pad. Most new-hire flight attendants make between $14,000 and $18,000 their first year on the job and junior flight attendants don’t usually get based where they live. So they’ll share an apartment and commute to work. Crash pads usually have bunk beds lining the walls in every room. There are even crash pads that offer “hot beds”: Flight attendants will pack up their pillows and sheets and store them in a tub so that others can use the bed after they leave. Not a lot goes on in a crash pad except sleep and Chinese food takeout parties.  Commuters mean business.

Q: What is “jump seat syndrome?”
A: It’s a term I made up. It’s like being a bartender or a hairdresser, the way people confess things to you. I’ll fly with other crewmembers and we’ll go right into personal stories. You get close really quickly and then you may never work with them again. It’s like having all these one-night stands; you get really intimate and then it’s done. It also sometimes happens when we start talking to passengers in the galley.

Q: You share a lot of horror stories about passengers on your flights. Do you have a theory about why people who are “normal” on the ground become trouble in the air?
A: One reason bad behavior stands out on the plane is because we’re unable to multitask the way we do on the ground, so we’re more in tune to what’s going on. If someone bumps into us on the street without apologizing we might curse under our breath, but move on. On the airplane, we sit and stew over it for a four-hour-long flight, and then explode when the kid behind you kicks your seat or the flight attendant tells you they’ve run out of the beverage of your choice.  

Q: In your book and on Twitter and other places you write about your work, you don’t name the airline you work for. Why?
A: So I can keep my job.  Plus, I’m not writing about my airline.  I’m writing about what it’s like to be a flight attendant.  It doesn’t really matter which airline we work for, the job is pretty much the same wherever we go.

Q: Are there also topics you cannot or will not talk about?
A: Anything to do with security. I won’t talk about religion or politics with passengers, and I refuse to discuss the electronic device policy any more. The rule is, if it has an on/off switch it has to be off and stowed. It’s always been the rule, but now that people have so many devices you’d think it was a brand new rule.