Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

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In this photo taken on September 19, 2018, Dora Lai, Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union leader and a cabin manager, poses during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (AFP)
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This photo taken on October 3, 2018 shows Hong Kong-based flight attendant Venus Fung, who works for a European airline, posing during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2018
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Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

  • The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide

HONG KONG: Immaculate-looking flight attendants who appear unruffled by the demands of a life spent in the air are part of the slick image sold by carriers — but Hong Kong-based workers are increasingly hitting back against sexual harassment.
Female cabin crew told AFP of how they had been harassed not only by passengers but also by colleagues.
While they say carriers have made some steps in the right direction, they argue airlines still lag far behind in the #MeToo era.
Venus Fung, whose experiences drove her to join and lead the Cabin Attendants Union of Hong Kong, says airlines must teach workers on how to deal with harassment.
Fung, 29, said the issue was never raised in her company training.
The Hong Kong-based attendant told AFP she had been physically picked up by a pilot who touched her chest, waist and bottom, commenting she had a nice body, when she was new to the job more than two years ago.
“At that moment I was really angry, but I was mostly also panicking and afraid. My mind went completely blank — I had no idea what to do or how to react,” said Fung, who works for a European airline which she did not want to identify for fear of recrimination.
The cabin manager who witnessed the incident did not intervene, Fung added, instead threatening to report her for wearing a skirt that was “too tight.”
As a result Fung stopped wearing skirts at work for more than a year, opting for trousers instead.
She has since been training colleagues on how to report sexual harassment and seek help, but said long-term cultural changes are needed.
“When a flight attendant comes out it looks very fancy with the uniform, heels and makeup. There are fantasies around this industry and it’s hard to change public perception but it absolutely cannot be an excuse for bad behavior,” Fung said, calling for an awareness-raising campaign.
“Education is key to changing people’s attitudes. It’s difficult to carry out overnight, it takes time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do these things.”
The airline did not respond to requests by AFP for comment.

The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide.
The US-based Association of Flight Attendants last year called on American airlines to “renounce the past objectification of flight attendants.”
Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet, which has staffed some of its inaugural flights with bikini-clad attendants and publishes a calendar featuring scantily-dressed models posing on planes, has sparked criticism for its marketing ploys.
Owned by Vietnam’s only female billionaire, the airline had to apologize for sending lingerie models to join the country’s under-23 football squad on a flight home in January after a social media outcry.
Some airline staff in Hong Kong told AFP the perceived glamor attracted many women to the job — there are popular makeup tutorials on YouTube by flight attendants from Dubai-based airline Emirates on how to achieve their look.
But others say some of the industry’s grooming standards are outdated.
Staff at Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific must wear eyeshadow, lipstick and nail polish in specifically approved shades and check it at regular intervals, according to an official handbook.
Male staff are also under scrutiny — banned from wearing make-up but told they must “maintain a clear complexion at all times.”
Cathay’s cabin crew representatives say they will push to make nail polish optional in talks with the company next year.
The airline announced in March it would introduce a trouser option for female attendants, ending a 70-year skirt rule.
But Dora Lai, Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union leader and a cabin manager, said that while the move was a step toward gender equality, it would do little to end sexual harassment without a shift in public and staff awareness.
Lai said many airline advertisements deployed beautiful women to sell the industry’s “sex appeal,” rather than the practical skills of the job.
“We are there to provide a service and to bring our passengers safely from point A to point B,” she said.

Despite Cathay launching an online course with a special section on sexual harassment for Hong Kong cabin staff in March, the union says some in-flight managers continue to distrust staff who report cases.
A Cathay attendant who did not want to be identified told AFP her in-flight manager had been reluctant to warn a passenger who had patted her head and back repeatedly, which she described as “humiliating.”
“I felt angry and sad. I was the concerned party, not just relaying the incident... And after telling him, the supervisor was still not supportive,” she said.
Cathay Pacific told AFP it provided training to all staff on the “prevention and elimination of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
But attendant Michelle Choi said the company needed to go further to support staff in taking immediate action, from giving warnings to asking passengers to apologize, or in some cases reporting to police.
“We want flight attendants to know what they can do instead of feeling embarrassed about reporting the case, and in the end making excuses to tolerate these acts as many used to do before,” she said.


Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

Updated 19 June 2019
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Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

  • Investigation team said in May 2018 that BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit Boeing 777 had originated from 53rd Russian military brigade
  • One of the accused Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved

NIEUWGEIN: International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the first people to face justice over the tragedy five years ago in which 298 people were killed.
The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.
Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.
The Dutch-led inquiry team said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.
The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news.”
“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.
Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defense minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.
Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetznaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.
Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.
During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.
Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.
“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.
Australia said Wednesday’s announcement was a “significant step” toward achieving justice, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it was “an important milestone in the efforts to uncover the full truth.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility,” while the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s said he hoped to see “everyone who is to blame for the murder of innocent children, women and men” go on trial.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.