Beware of flight passenger's straying hand

SINGAPORE - As she walked down the narrow aisle of the airplane, her thighs brushed against the protruding elbow of a male passenger.

The flight attendant with Singapore Airlines (SIA) felt uncomfortable, but she wasn't sure if the touch was intentional, or if it amounted to an outrage of her modesty.

Amy (not her real name), who is in her 30s and has been with SIA for more than five years, said the passenger would rest his elbow on the armrest whenever a stewardess walked past him.

"He would bend his arm so that his elbow protruded from his seat. My instinct told me that it wasn't accidental. So I alerted my colleagues to watch out for him," said Amy, who also informed her immediate supervisor.

"We observed him closely and noticed that his elbow would protrude only when a stewardess walked past him. He didn't do that to the stewards."

When Amy's supervisor asked her if she wanted to pursue the matter and make a police report, she chose not to.

She told The New Paper: "The level of tolerance is different for every stewardess. To some, a tap on the back or a touch on the waist is considered molest.

"But others would only scream molest when it involves touching of the breasts or butts. My tolerance level is definitely higher."

Amy's experience is among alleged molests in airplanes that have gone unreported.

The police told TNP that a total of 1,396 cases of outrage of modesty, not limited to those that took place in airplanes, were reported to the police last year, and 707 cases reported up to June this year.

Assistance for victims

On Thursday, a school teacher from the United Arab Emirates was fined $10,000 on two counts of touching the buttocks of two 27-year-old stewardesses on Aug 19.

A third charge of him brushing his hand against a 23-year-old woman's thigh was considered during sentencing.

Ahmad Abdulla Saleh Alyasi, 41, was on board an SIA flight from Dubai to Singapore with his wife and five children when he molested the three stewardesses.

He was arrested on arrival in Singapore.

Earlier this week, an Australian, Rajput Sandeep Singh, 30, apologised to a woman in open court for molesting her on board an SIA flight to Singapore from New Delhi on Aug 25.

The software developer was acquitted after paying the woman $2,000.

An SIA spokesman told TNP: "In the event that any suspected molest cases takes place on board our flights, we are always ready to assist our cabin crew members in filing a police report.

"Singapore Airlines cooperates fully in investigations by the police and all relevant authorities. "Cases of passengers who display errant behaviour on board our flights are reviewed internally before an appropriate course of action is decided.

"The company may consider options including a warning, a temporary or permanent prohibition of flying on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights, as well as taking legal action."

She added that SIA takes its employees' safety and security very seriously and takes various measures to promote a safe and secure working environment for cabin crew members.

Speaking up

Amy said: "We are trained to speak up during such incidents and to report them to our superiors immediately.

"They will then inform the captain of the flight. We will be asked if we want to pursue the matter and either our superiors or the captain will make a police report on our behalf if we decide to take it further with the passenger."

When contacted, Ms Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), commended SIA for encouraging its cabin crew members to speak up in situations when they feel that their modesty has been violated.

Ms Lim said: "Sexual harassment is a real problem and we do not have a culture of speaking up. The plane seems to be where sexual harassment happens a lot. When the lights go off, some men would think that they could get away with things.

"I know of a case where a female passenger was molested under her blanket when she fell asleep at her seat."

As for air stewardesses getting molested while on board, Ms Lim said: "As the planes are small, in some instances, the touching could be accidental.

"The air stewardess should tell the male passenger to keep his hands within his seat and make sure that he doesn't do it again.

"She should also alert her fellow cabin crew members to keep a lookout for her, so that she can be sure that it wasn't accidental, and report the incident to her supervisor at the very least."

TNP also asked Qantas, Emirates and Finnair for their take on potential molest on board their flights, but they declined to comment.

Ms Jenny Teng, an air stewardess with a foreign airline for the past 15 years, said: "I have not been molested in flight before. But I have colleagues who have had such experiences.

"We have not been trained to handle such situations. But in most cases, we would alert our supervisors and they would speak to the passengers on our behalf. Of course, the passengers would deny they did anything wrong."

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