Alaska Airlines is overhauling how it trains employees, including flight attendants, on sexual harassment and assault after two recent high-profile incidents, its CEO said Monday.
In a post on the airline’s website, CEO Brad Tilden said flight attendants will study a sexual assault scenario as part of their recurring training program, while all employees will receive lessons aimed at preventing sexual harassment and assault. In addition, Tilden said the airline is developing new policies that should make it easier for passengers to report inappropriate behavior on aircraft.
“To be clear, sexual harassment and assault have absolutely no place in our workplace, on board our flights, or any place,” Tilden said.
The airline industry has long struggled with sexual harassment and assault of both employees and passengers. As in most industries, it is an issue that has received increased attention in recent months, as the MeToo movement has strengthened.
In a December op/ed in the Washington Post, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents Alaska’s cabin crew, said her members were often called pet names, and “patted on the rear” by passengers seeking attention, among other issues, calling on airline CEOs to address a culture gone-wrong. “Knowing that CEOs will back us up will also make it easier for flight attendants to intervene when passengers are sexually harassed or assaulted on planes,” she wrote.
It’s an issue everywhere, but even more than the rest of the airline industry, Alaska has been stung by two recent events, both receiving considerable media attention. In November, Randi Zuckerberg, a Silicon Valley executive and sister of Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, said in a letter to Tilden and other executives that she had been harassed by another passenger in first class on a flight from Los Angles to Mazatlan, and complained flight attendants had essentially condoned it.
Meanwhile, last month, an Alaska first officer filed a state civil lawsuit against the airline in King County, Washington, saying she was drugged and raped by one of the airline’s captains during a layover. After reporting it, the complaint said, the first officer was removed from flying while the captain returned to work. “The actions of Alaska Airlines of Alaska Airlines after the incident could be construed as unlawfully retaliatory,” the complaint said.
Officials at the airline declined to comment Monday but said in March they were taking the allegations seriously. The first officer has conducted several interviews, telling the Seattle Times, “I may not be the first case, but I hope to be the last. It’s time to take responsibility. The culture needs to change.”
After her incident, Zuckerberg also called on Alaska to take sexual harassment and assault more seriously. In her letter to Alaska’s top executives, which she posted on Facebook, Zuckerberg said another passenger repeatedly make lewd, explicit and “highly-offensive” sexual comments to her.
“When I brought it to the flight attendants’ attention, their response was that this guy was a frequent Alaska Airlines traveler on this exact route [and] they have had to talk to him about his behavior in the past, but, oh well, don’t take it personally, this guy just doesn’t have a filter,” she said.
Zuckerberg added she was “furious” at the airline for “knowingly and willingly” providing the passenger a platform to sexually harass women.
In his post, Alaska’s Tilden said customers should notify flight attendants immediately if they observe sexual harassment or assault, ringing the call button if necessary. “If needed,” he said, “the flight crew can contact law enforcement to meet the aircraft upon landing.”
It’s a similar policy to Southwest Airlines, a spokeswoman for the carrier said. “If our crews are made aware of a harmful situation—whether witnessed first-hand or reported by someone else—our flight attendants are trained to notify the pilots who will request law enforcement meet the aircraft upon landing, as appropriate,” she said.
Other airlines also seek to address sexual harassment and assault. Last year, after Nelson’s op/ed, United CEO Oscar Munoz wrote to employees, saying “there is no place for sexual harassment at United.” Nelson’s union also represents United’s cabin crew.