On November 15, 2018, U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) Secretary Elaine Chao announced the creation of the National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force, as a subcommittee of the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.
The Task Force was created to “review current practices, protocols and requirements of air carriers in responding to and reporting allegations of sexual misconduct by passengers on board aircraft.” In the future, the Task Force will likely be making recommendation on best practices relating to training, reporting, and data collection relating to sexual misconduct by passengers.
The Task Force is comprised of the following members:
Judith S. Kaleta, Deputy General Counsel, DOT, as DOT representative and Chair of Sexual Misconduct Task Force.
Allison Ausband, Senior Vice President for In Flight Service, Delta Air Lines, as representative of airlines.
Christopher Bidwell, Senior Vice President, Security, Airports Council International-North America, as representative of airports.
Katherine Chon, Director of Office on Trafficking in Persons, HHS, as representative of HHS.
Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, Director of Office for Victims of Crime, DOJ, as representative of DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime.
David L. Maggard, Chief, Los Angeles Airport Police, as representative of state and local law enforcement agencies.
Sunitha Menon, Chief of Consulting Services Operations, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, as representative of national organizations providing services to sexual assault victims.
Lyn Montgomery, President, Transport Workers Union – Local 556, as representative of labor organizations representing flight attendants.
Kaori Paris, United Airlines Pilot, Air Line Pilots Association, as representative of labor organizations representing pilots.
Eben Peck, Executive Vice President of Advocacy, American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), as representative of national travel organizations.
Sharon Pinkerton, Senior Vice President for Legislative and Regulatory Policy, Airlines for America, as representative of airlines.
Matthew Ploskunak, Program Manager of International Violent Crimes, FBI, as representative of the FBI.
Frances Smith, Adjunct Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute, as representative of consumers.
Katherine Sullivan, Acting Director of Office on Violence Against Women, DOJ, as representative of DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was instrumental in the creation of this Task Force. Along with Bob Casey (D-PA) and group of their colleagues in the Senate, Senator Murray urged DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to address the problem of sexual assault and harassment on commercial flights. The senators cited a 2017 survey in which one out of five flight attendants was aware of a passenger that reported a sexual assault. Of these surveyed flight attendants, 91.5% were unaware of any written guidance and/or training on how to respond to these reports, although 70% thought training would be important or very important.
Flight attendants themselves are also subjected to sexual assault and harassment on a regular basis. 68% of surveyed flight attendants experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers. In the last year alone, 35% experienced verbal harassment and 18% experienced physical harassment or assault.
Nate Bingham is an Attorney with Krutch Lindell Bingham Jones, representing victims of aviation accidents and other aviation related incidents.