Sobering thoughts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2006, 12:00am

For many people, one of the few compensations for being crammed into an airborne sardine can for hours on end is the prospect of a free drink.

But for flight attendants on state-run Thai Airways, unlimited free alcohol is proving a recipe for sexual harassment. They claim that intoxicated passengers are disruptive and can get out of hand, particularly with women hostesses, although male attendants also report being harassed.

Groping, verbal abuse and even attempted rapes are unwelcome hazards of the job, according to the Cabin Crew Association at Thai Airways.

One Thai businessman was recently convicted of sexually harassing a female attendant on board a Thai Airways flight to Dubai in 2003. He received a suspended jail term and a fine.

A study by Bangkok's Thammasat University has claimed that Thai Airways attendants suffer more harassment than cabin crew on other airlines. Now, they have won support from the Ministry of Social Development, which wants the airline to do more to protect employees from sexual harassment.

One solution, says the attendants' union, is to cut back on the number of drinks served. Presumably this would also save the airline some money. Surely most airlines struggling with rising fuel costs would welcome the chance to shave off some costs in these competitive times?

But an airline representative told Thai Day newspaper that such a policy wasn't feasible because it could drive customers into the hands of more generous rivals. 'We can't compete with other airlines if we restrict alcohol servings,' said spokeswoman Sunatee Isvarpornchai.

You could also argue that determined drinkers will simply bring their own alcohol aboard. Also, those of us who travel in economy class might complain that we're suffering because of a few bad apples, who should be dealt with severely.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the complaint by the Thai Airways union is that it singles out certain prime offenders. Apparently, those most likely to grope and pester attendants are privileged Thais, such as politicians and senators. Clearly, the mix of power and alcohol produces a noxious brew.

This renders the airline's argument far less convincing, since these people usually get special perks when they travel on Thai Airways, and are unlikely to be paying for their own tickets. Taking a rival airline would mean lining up with the rest of humanity. So it's hard to believe that cutting back on free drinks would prompt a rush to rival airlines - unless they felt strongly about the principle.

But, then, how many politicians do you know who act on a matter of principle?