My Take

More respect all round would help Cathay Pacific's harassed attendants

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 4:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 9:12am

Does wearing sexy clothes make women a more enticing target of sex pests? Cathay Pacific's Flight Attendants Union seems to think so. Indeed, a figure cited by the union's honorary secretary Michelle Choi sounds positively alarming.

Since the introduction of more revealing uniforms for female attendants in 2011, she believes the incidents of sexual harassment by passengers have gone up. By her estimate, a female attendant can expect to suffer on average one such incident on every 10 flights. "The blouse is too short and does not cover enough," she said. "Whenever a flight attendant bends down, her waistline is exposed. We believe the company intentionally does this to make us look a bit sexier and to let the passenger see more."

Somehow, if there is a problem with staff harassment by passengers, I doubt sexy uniforms are to blame. Rather it's Cathay's "class" system for passengers and its differential quality of service for first, business, premium economy and economy "cattle" classes.

Now, I am not disputing Choi's characterisation of Cathay uniforms as being too revealing. I recently travelled in economy - where else! - on Cathay between Toronto and Hong Kong and could testify what Choi said about the waistline is true. But given the watery congee and instant noodle, the minimal service and tight seats, we in cattle class were constantly reminded of our insignificance. One stern look from those attendants would put us in our place and banish what lewd thoughts we may have about them. And guess what? Choi says the problem stems mainly from the upper classes of passengers.

"Some of the Marco Polo Club members [frequent fliers] think they can do things to us because they are privileged and we somehow allow it," she said. "I think part of the reason is that we treat our passengers so well. They are spoilt ... They think it is part of their privilege."

It's no secret that Cathay and other Asian airlines pamper the upper classes of passengers, as they are the engine of profits. That makes clients feel entitled, especially after a few free drinks.

If Cathay shows less contempt for cattle like us and offers quality and professional services for all, its attendants may find they will be treated with more respect.