Friday, January 28, 2011

The air stewardess truth

Although the title sounds like it's full of originality but no i found it on google news and it just caught my attention so i decided to share it here.

“Your senior would force you to smoke, drink and even sleep with them. If you didn’t comply, they would make your life hell.”

“A colleague of mine was terrified because the head steward wouldn’t stop knocking on her hotel door in the middle of the night. When she didn’t respond, he taunted her in front of everyone the next morning. It got so bad that she cried every single day.”

“She felt dirty every time she put on her uniform so she quit her job.”

These are just some examples of the many traumatic experiences female flight attendants have suffered in their line of work.

In a newly published book, a flight-attendant-turned-writer recounts her own air horror tales with a liberal dose of humour, even though things were far from funny back then. And the title doesn’t get any more appropriate — Madness Aboard! Welcome to Plane Insanity.

“It (sexual harassment) was so prevalent that you can ask any stewardess who worked at the time and they will tell you the same stories,” says 40-year-old Yvonne Lee, who left the aviation industry in 1995 after six years.

She tells Malaysian daily The Star of how a chief steward called “Joe Square Jaw” had attempted to make a move on her in the cargo hold.

“I felt a strange erected pressure against the small of my back. If I remember correctly, it was the same kind of pressure I had felt when I was among the sardine-packed commuters on a bullet train in Tokyo,” wrote Lee.

“Some Japanese pervert had jacked up against my butt. Then it quickly occurred to me that this was no bullet train but a deserted cargo hold where only one other person existed! Joe Square Jaw!”

Insanity indeed.

A UK report entitled ‘Sexual harassment culture shatters illusion of high life‘ shows that in a survey of 2,000 women who worked for a national airline, more than one in five said they had suffered sexual harassment from passengers.

Apparently, male members of the crew pose an even greater threat. Almost half of the women said they had had to put up with offensive remarks or lewd behaviour by colleagues or superiors.

And the easiest prey? “Rookie stewardesses,” as Lee calls it.

“It was as if it was a time before modern civilisation and the stewardesses were viewed like cattle stock. Whether pilots, stewards or passengers, they ogled at a newbie like she was a walking piece of prime steak, a Chateaubriand with a chignon and in heels…. It was demeaning.”

So why do flight attendants make such appealing targets for sexual harassment?

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) points the finger at advertising.

“There’s not an airline out there that hasn’t at some time sought to exploit the notion that air travel includes being served by a physically attractive hostess,” states the ITF report.

The Star gave the example of Singapore International Airlines (SIA)’s “Singapore Girls” — so famous that a reproduction of “the girl” became the first commercial icon to be placed in Madame Tussaud‘s waxworks museum in London in 1993.

“Gorgeous air stewardesses…I think a majority of passengers have come to expect that,” agrees flight attendant Max Foo, 26. “In fact, I have friends who said they preferred Asian airlines compared to Western ones because the latter were full of old, matronly women.”

Fussy much? Try the demanding male passengers, or those who had a little too much to drink, or both.

“A male passenger touched my behind. I told him, you do that again and I will slap you,” says a stewardess in a report complied by the ITF.

“I asked the other passengers to be my witness to his behaviour and, in the end, I had to slap him. Of course, sometimes you’re afraid you might lose your job.”

Says senior flight attendant Annie Teo, 46, “It’s as if normal rules don’t apply when you’re 40,000ft (12,192m) in the air. This problem is further exacerbated during the layover period, when you’re in a foreign land with co-workers who are virtual strangers. There was a lot of hard partying going on.”

These cases may not make newspaper headlines, but word gets around on who the top predators are, says Teo.

“We have an unofficial list of our own,” she adds. “There’s a Top Five Captains List and a Top Five Supervisors List. We’re very cautious with those who make the list.”

While Teo admits that things have somewhat improved since the implementation of more stringent laws governing sexual harassment at the workplace, the working conditions are still far from desired.

“It’s still normal for a male captain or steward to refer to a stewardess as a ‘crew meal’, meaning that she’s an easy lay,” says Teo. “That’s the first thing they look out for in a flight — a stewardess that they can makan (“eat”) and pass on to their colleagues. They think it’s funny.”

And the worst part? The same sexual predators who were around 10 years ago are still around today.

“The supervisor who raped my friend is still working, even though he has amassed a string of cases over the years,” reveals Teo. “He even got promoted recently. I think it’s because he has strong ties with the human resources department.”

There are reasons why such cases go unreported.

“Usually, we’re advised to lodge a complaint in the office instead of taking matters to the police,” she says. “If the victim does this, however, the office would require both her and her perpetrator to be present for an investigation. What if the perpetrator isn’t penalised for his actions and decides to make her pay for what she’s done?”

It seems that male flight attendants are not left out of the nasty game either. What makes it worse is that the airline companies do not take such matters seriously, says Max Foo.

“I’ve lost count of how many times another male colleague had tried to grope or rub against me,” he says. “I was bemused at first, but now I’m just angry.”

“In class, they teach the girls some basic precautionary measures they can use to avoid salacious advances but, when it comes to the men, we’re usually on our own. Management makes a big joke out of it (homosexuality).”

“At the end of the day, we’re just normal human beings,” adds Foo.

“Most of us just want to make a decent living and go back to our families.”

Hmmm... Interesting right. Air stewardess...

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