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Sexual harassment and well-being of stewardesses

Sexual harassment and well-being of stewardesses
Author: Karolina Lotycz
2 Commentries
Abstract: Stewardesses play an important role on each flight. They are respected and thanked by every passenger for their help and care. Their health and well-being are the most important. They may seem happy but on the inside, they hide many emotions. Sexual harassment has been recently been brought up within the media which is a good sign as everyone needs to be educated on how to respond to it.

Key words: Sexual harassment, well-being, stewardesses, aviation

Emotional and aesthetical labour is very important when working as a stewardess. Having to look good is a demand for this job but not to all of the airlines, instead to sound good and know how to manage your emotions is essential. Air stewardess jobs are highly recommended and popular choice for tourism jobs, it is a job for mostly women simply because they look better whilst doing the job and they know how to control their emotions more than men. There are many side effects to this jobs although it might seem so glamourous.

The ability to control your feeling within the stewardess job is essential as there may be many situations such as angry passengers or annoying co-workers which might want you to do bad. Looking good is key, it is also essential to human beings as they are being attracted to the physical beauty which makes them want to make judgements on others personal appearance. Customers are attracted by that and tend to like it when flying on a plane, not only to the old ones but to the young ones as well which dream of the career as a stewardess.

The importance of looking good and always showing yourself from the best side can have a negative effect. Sexual harassment is known to be happening in all work places and this is due to other people thinking they are better than others and that they can tell them what to do. As stated by Hochschild (1983:96) the importance of ‘weight, figure, straight teeth, complexion and facial regularity’ can lead to sexual harassment as men like what they see and they want it no matter what. Stewardesses are often threatened by the pilots of losing their jobs and not being paid because they don’t want to have any physical contact with them. As stated by Feldman (2017), unwanted advances to groping, or forced physical contact or even assault or harassment are outwardly accepted as conventional by the flight attendants. Situations such as suspicious abortion or not turning up to work could be one of the results of sexual harassment at work (Feldman, 2017).

Although the regulations of the airlines have changed and they are no longer that strict, women which are curvier are started to be seen as stewardesses on the flights. This, of course, did not stop the sexual harassment but increased it as the other workers have more to comment about their bodies which for some may be uncomfortable and may lead to stress and depression.
Unfortunately, the more good looking and younger the stewardess is, the more sexual harassment she is involved in. Due to learning how to manage their feelings while working with passengers, stewardesses don’t want to talk about sexual harassment and they don’t want to inform anyone about those situations due to being threatened of a job loss or not being paid. Additionally, most of the airlines do not provide sexual harassment training and due to that, the workers do not have any knowledge about it and how they should respond to it.

Sexual harassment at work is not the only concern about air flight attendants. Another concern is their health and well-being. Stewardesses have a stressful job. There is a huge concern considered within the flight attendants of the rate of cancer incidence and the possibility of exposure to the physical, chemical and psychological factors which have been including the potential cosmic ionising (Bergman and Gillberg, 2016). Bergman and Gillberg (2016), has found in the studies that among the female flight attendants there are high levels of fatigue and modern to low levels of distress. The fatigue may be caused by the emotional exhaustion. It is a major burnout, as the stewardesses have to engage with their customers and this leads to prone of emotional exhaustion (Hochschild, 1983).

When thinking and talking about the well-being of the air flight attendants, some of the flights that the flight attendants have to work can lead to insolation and loneliness as they spend too much time at work (MacDonald et al., 2003). This particular job means flying to countries where they are asked to and in some cases to move to another country. Stewardesses get used to it as they can travel all around the world, but there are also times where they get lonely as they don’t see their friends and family as often. Some may end up with anxiety or stress which has been reported often within the crew members and especially the flight attendants. (MacDonald et al., 2003).

It is important for someone to help the stewardesses to put a stop to sexual harassment and think about their feelings, emotions as well as health and well-being. it is important to make sure that all of the stewardesses get the right knowledge and training of sexual harassment by their company.


Bergman, A and Gillberg, G. (2016) The Cabin Crew Blues Middle-aged Cabin Attendants and Their Working Conditions. Nordic journal of working life studies, 5(4) 23-39.

Hochschild, A. (1983) Managed heart: commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley, CA: University Press.

Macdonald, L.A., Deddens, J.A., Grajewski, B.A., Whelan, E.A. and Hurrell, J.J. (2003) Job Stress Among Female Flight Attendants. American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 45(7) 703-714.

Commentary on "Sexual Harassment and Well-Being of Stewardesses"
Author: Freya Wells
This paper was chosen for commentary due to previous research I have done on this topic, sexual harassment in the service industry as a whole. However, this paper has more of a focus, mainly on flight attendants, which I find very interesting.

As this paper highlights, there are significant impacts sexual harassment can cause for flight attendants such as stress, depression and their general health and well-being. From a study in 2006, the results revealed that flight attendants suffer from psychological distress from many work pressures, one being sexual harassment. It was found to be more common among those that were in service than those who were no longer working (Ballard, et al., 2006).

In terms of the main perpetrators of sexual harassment, this discussion paper focuses on customers being the main culprit. However, similarly to many other jobs in the service and hospitality industry, and many other industries, colleagues, mainly supervisors and those higher up in the organisation are also known to behave in a manipulative, harassing manor. Within Ballard et al. (2006) research, half of the women participants reported sexual harassment from a colleague or co-worker during their career as flight attendants. Only 22.1% of women reported sexual harassment by passengers which is a big difference compared to those harassed by colleagues.

As touched upon in this article, the management of organisation and training in terms of sexual harassment is poor. In fact, many organisations encourage such behaviour by urging flirtation, appealing uniforms, and customer pleasing as part of their employees’ job role and requirements. Many management professionals in the service industry go by phrase, ‘the customer is always right’ which, in terms of sexual harassment and other types of threatening and unwanted behaviour, they may not be always right at all (Williams, 2003). This is where reporting incidents in very important. A recent survey by Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (2018) stated in their research findings of similar research, only 7% of the flight attendants who experienced sexual harassment reported it to their employer. 68% of those surveyed, say they had not noticed any employer efforts in terms of sexual harassment at work (AFA, 2018). Fundamentally, this shows a major issue in the airline industry and the service industry as a whole.

In terms of this discussion paper, I do feel not all aspects of sexual harassment has been discussed. There are limitations in terms of only women being the victims and only customers being the perpetrator, which has been heavily proven through numerous literature that colleagues are a major offender.

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (2018) Survey Reveals Widespread Harassment of Flight Attendants. Available from http://www.afacwa.org/survey_reveals_widespread_harassment_of_flight_attendants [accessed 16 May 2018].

Ballard, T.J., Romito, P., Lauria, L., Vigiliano, V., Caldora, M., Mazzanti, C. and Verdecchia, A. (2006) Self perceived health and mental health among women flight attendants. Occupation and Environmental Medicine, 63, 33-38.

Williams, C. (2003) Sky Service: The Demands of Emotional Labour in the Airline Industry. Gender, Work and Organisation, 10 (5), 513-550.
Where does the treatment of flight attendants derive from
Author: Ashleigh Herbert
I have selected this paper for commentary due to research I have previously carried out regarding emotional and aesthetic labour within the role of Cabin Crew, However, this paper considers the implications this can have on flight attendants including sexual harassment and stress, offering a different angle from my own research.

This paper discusses the importance of emotional and aesthetic labour in the role of cabin crew, many academics have documented the fact that airlines value aesthetic and emotional labour including Baum (2012), who documents how airlines are so eager to gain competitive advantage and encourage repeat custom that they follow recruitment practises that are discriminatory in social class, ethnicity and gender terms. As stated in the paper flight attendant’s jobs are highly sought after, generally perceived as a glamorous job role, likely due to the recruitment statistics and media coverage. For example, Virgin Atlantic’s high-profile 25th anniversary TV ad campaign which received complaints stating that the all-female crew members were being endorsed as the main appeal of choosing to fly with Virgin (Sweney, 2009). These types of advertisements can promote the perception of flight attendants therefore, encourage behaviours such as sexual harassment.

Whilst this paper discusses cabin crew jobs as being primarily women because they look better and have more control over their own emotions, Witz et al (2003) on the other hand, argues that it is not only female labour that is subject to commodification via aestheticization.

The main topic discussed within this discussion paper is the sexual harassment flight attendants experience, leading to stress and depression, also a consequence of the pressures of emotional labour. Highlighted in Hochschilds (2012) book referencing Delta airlines methods to adopt a living room analogy encouraging trainees to assume a friendship attitude with their customers despite rarely receiving the same attitude back. Hochschild speaks of customers believing they have an assumed right to unsuppressed anger and irritation, having purchased that unspoken right with the ticket.

The discussion paper has concluded by stating the importance of someone putting a stop to sexual harassment. However, the purpose of this commentary is to demonstrate that much of the sexual harassment derives from the treatment and actions of the airlines themselves. For example, their attitude towards flight attendants as suggested by Witz et al (2003) ‘in the way that manufacturers pay great attention to the packaging of products in order to get us to buy them, we need to attend to our packaging if we want to sell ourselves to others and get them to take a closer look at what’s inside.' Therefore, a starting point for improvement in the perception and treatment of cabin crew should begin with the airlines themselves.

Baum, T. (2012) Working the skies: Changing representations of gendered work in the airline industry, 1930 – 2011. Tourism Management, 33(5) 1185-1195 [Accessed 18 May 2018]

Hochschild, A. (2012) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkley: University of California Press

Sweney, M. (2009) Virgin ad prompts complaints of sexism. The Guardian, 09 Feb. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/feb/09/virgin-atlantic-ad-sexist-ofcom [Accessed 18 May 2018]

Witz, A., Warhurst, C. and Nickson, D. (2003) The Labour of Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Organization. Organization, 10(1) 33-54 [Accessed 18 May 2018].