At the December 14th FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) meeting, FlyersRights.org proposed creating a working group to address the issue of sexual assault of passengers and flight crew on planes. Out of the large swath of industry members, including air carrier, manufacturing, and labor representatives, only Gail Dunham of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation spoke in favor of or indicated support for the proposal.
In 2016, FlyersRights.org sent letters to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, DOT Secretary Foxx, and FAA Administrator Huerta to urge them to immediately act to protect airline passengers and flight attendants from sexual assault. None of the four recipients or their successors have replied to FlyersRights.org.
With the great amounts of attention the issue of sexual assault has recently received, the time has arrived for real action to end sexual assault on airplanes. The issue is made worse during air travel due to the confined nature of air travel and ever-shrinking seat sizes and personal space. FlyersRights.org is calling for better airline enforcement of a safe flying environment and for employee training on how to recognize and stop sexual assault incidents.
FlyersRights.org is the largest nonprofit organization for airline passengers. It operates a hotline for passengers at 877-FLYERS6, publishes a weekly newsletter, serves on the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, and maintains an office in Washington, D.C. for public education and advocacy. Among its multiple rulemaking efforts, FlyersRights.org recently won a case in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing the FAA to reconsider its refusal to regulate seat sizes in light of the threat on safety and emergency evacuations. FlyersRights.org President Paul Hudson has been a national advocate for passenger rights interests for over 25 years.
Our statement to ARAC members:
“This will confirm that I will propose that the FAA assign a new task to ARAC or a working group to examine current rules, practices, training, and policies regarding sexual misconduct on airlines.
This issue is one that we have been addressing over the past 18 months as it is apparent that sexual assaults and misconduct are occurring with increasing frequency on airliners, mainly on long haul flights and that there is no adequate training or protocols for flight crews on how to deal with it. It is also apparent that there is no data base to determine the frequency of such incidents, and no mandatory reporting of such incidents.
Although we wrote to President Obama in 2016 (see attached), no action has been taken. Now legislation has been introduced in the Senate and recent news articles show that the situation is unchanged and the status quo in completely unacceptable. The AFA did a survey of 2000 flight attendants and found that 20% had received complaints of sexual abuse or harassment passenger to passenger. This could mean there are thousands of such incidents only a tiny fraction of which are prosecuted criminally or civilly. Just in the past week we have received several complaints.
When colleges and schools failed to deal with crimes such as rape and child abuse, laws were passed to require mandatory reporting, public release of statistics, establishing of public data bases for locations of sexual predators, and victim hotlines were established. When airlines failed to deal with human trafficking and racial discrimination, independent or international action occurred.
The Airline Safety Act and other laws provide a legal basis for the FAA to act. But If the FAA and DOT fail to act, victims of sexual assault on airliners are likely to increasingly sue airlines and probably the FAA for enabling such conduct with no redress, and legislation by the Congress and states is far more likely to be enacted.”