Police not alerted to Cathay staff scare
The Cathay Pacific flight attendant who fought off a man trying to enter her hotel room in Saudi Arabia might have found herself on the wrong side of the law if police had been alerted, her union believes.
Becky Kwan Siu-wa, vice-chairwoman of the Flight Attendants Union (FAU), said she believed the reason police were not called to the Marriott Hotel in Riyadh following the incident on February 28 was because of the possible legal implications for the victim.
Under Saudi law, the flight attendant might have been found at fault for answering the knock on her door without first checking who was at the door and without changing out of her casual clothes into the all-covering abaya robes provided to all female airline staff staying at the hotel, Kwan said.
The FAU wants Cathay Pacific to stop staff layovers in Riyadh after the incident, in which a local man tried to force his way into a young flight attendant's room after knocking on her door late at night. He only fled when she threatened to call police.
Other flight attendants have complained of nuisance calls to their rooms and Kwan said men she referred to as 'lobby lizards' had targeted Cathay flight attendants since the layovers were switched to the Saudi capital last month because of political unrest in Bahrain.
Since the incident, security at the hotel has been stepped up, with extra patrols, CCTV cameras inside lifts, guest checks on the floor where cabin crew stay and the screening of room-to-room calls.
Explaining the handling of the incident by Marriott Hotel staff, spokeswoman June Farrell said: 'The action we took in response to the reported incident was to ensure that the privacy of the guests involved was not compromised.'
Cathay Pacific has provided abayas for female flight attendants to wear while in Riyadh. They are issued to the women when they check in, and written guidelines issued to staff tell them to wear them inside and outside the hotel.
Kwan, who stayed at the Riyadh Marriott while on duty with Cathay Pacific at the beginning of March, described the locals as friendly and welcoming and said the abayas were comfortable to wear.
'It's the first time I've had to wear something like that as a requirement but it's a local custom and when you go to another country, you have to follow their customs. I didn't mind it at all,' she said.
The problem for flight attendants, however, was that while they had been given guidelines on how to behave to avoid breaching local customs, they had not been told how to behave if someone was assaulted.
'Everybody is really scared,' she said, adding that flight attendants were too frightened to leave their rooms on layovers. 'Cathay can't guarantee our safety.'
Cathay Pacific has said in a statement it is taking the incident 'very seriously' and taking steps to ensure all crew in Riyadh are safe.