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Airline works to make solo women feel safer amid swirl of reported groping incidences

Airline works to make solo women feel safer amid swirl of reported groping incidences

Lark Ellen Gould | TravelPulse (TNS)

These incidents are not unusual; in fact, they happen all too often. The headlines read like this: “Sleeping woman wakes up to passenger groping her on flight to XX.”

It happened to me early in the early aughts on a Royal Jordanian flight from New York to Amman. The seat row was in the back of the Economy Plus section. The seatmate was an air marshal. I knew this because I saw the pistol he packed in his carry-on bag. I did not report the incident, and when I visibly awoke, we chatted as if it had never happened. I chose not to make a scene on that very long flight. I decided not to let him know that I knew what he had done.

Perhaps it was the wrong choice. These incidents are much too common for one person to change the tide, I felt. It would take a world of attention and new seating policies to make a difference.

And one airline is doing just that. Air India offers a female-only row for its seating choices, at least on domestic flights. The move came in response to an ongoing battery of groping incidents that were being reported.

“We will be reserving the third row — six seats — in the economy class of the aircraft for female passengers traveling alone,” Meenakshi Malik, Air India’s revenue management chief, told The Hindu newspaper of India, as reported in USA Today. “We feel, as national carriers, it is our responsibility to enhance comfort level to female passengers. There are a lot of female passengers who travel alone with us and we will be blocking a few seats for them.”The women-only seats do not come at an added cost and can be requested up to an hour before check-in.

In a recent move, the carrier started offering “gender-sensitive” seating to women traveling solo so they will not have to sit in a middle seat – especially between two adult males. On average, 10% of the passenger load on an Air India flight will be solo women. The move is to make women flying alone and mothers with children feel more comfortable during the flight.

“To ensure the female guests traveling with us have a comfortable flight, we, as a company, are adopting a gender-sensitive seat assignment practice. A circular has been released with regards to the same,” stated an internal communication last month, according to the Hindustan Times.

India has long had a policy of offering women “safety” compartments on transport. Long-distance train trips come with “Ladies Cars” as a “gender sensitive” convenience. Each metro train in Delhi has such a section for women. Other airlines, such as British Airways, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia have created policies that do not allow unaccompanied children to be seated next to adult males on flights.

Unfortunately, however, those carriers are few and far between, and the occurrences of women – and underage girls – experiencing unsettling groping incidents are still playing out on other airlines. In September, for instance, on an IndiGo flight from Mumbai to Guwahati, a male passenger allegedly groped the adjacent female co-passenger after lifting the armrest.

A federal lawsuit was launched in July against Delta that accused flight attendants of failing to intervene after an inebriated male passenger groped a mother and her 16-year-old daughter. Similar stories surround everyday carriers like Alaska, Spirit, JetBlue and United.

In one incident reported in March, an accused Delta passenger blamed poor eyesight for the misbehavior. During another occasion last year, it was “the Ambien” that caused it.

“Delta continues to cooperate with law enforcement in this matter,” a Delta spokesperson told a reporter. “We have zero tolerance for this type of alleged behavior on our flights and at our airports and the charged individual is no longer welcome to fly Delta.”

That American carriers will see “gender-sensitive” seat policies or ladies’ rows on planes any time soon, however, is likely not on the horizon.

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