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Airline Sexual Harassment Claims: True Or False

Back when I was flying for an airline, I got a call from a pilots' union representative. He said, "You have a meeting Thursday at Flight Operation. I'll be there to represent you."

I said, "Thanks, but I don't need you."

He said, "Yes you do. This is a big deal. There is s**t rolling downhill from upper management on this one."

I told him I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me a fired female flight engineer had filed sexual harassment charges against the airline, naming me and a copilot as the perpetrators.

Sexual harassment has been big in the news recently. Last week when the family got together for Thanksgiving, another licensed clinical social worker in the family and I had an argument. I told her women should not automatically be believed when they claimed sexual harassment. She said women should be believed because, otherwise, women who have been abused would not come forward.

She runs an agency for abused women. Understandably, she has strong views on this. But, I referred her to the stats: women initiate physical abuse in marriage as often as men do. She knew the stats, but said, "We can't get into that. That muddies the waters. We have to believe women who 'come forward'. Otherwise, women won't do it"

My social worker family member was right to want women to "come forward." Of course more will come forward if they are automatically believed. Though it is valuable to society for women to come forward, it is damaging to society to automatically believe what is said. it is a mistake to regard all accusing women as truthful just as it is a mistake to regard all accused men as liars. Being female does not innoculate a person from being untruthful, or even from being a psychopath.

Claims need to be evaluated based on evidence. It is persuasive when several people give testimony that matches up, provided each statement is independent (not influenced by what others have said or reportedly said) and is not being stated for personal, financial, or political gain.

I should have told her about an incident at an airline I worked for. A female flight engineer fresh out of training was assigned to one of my flights. It was reasonable to expect her to need extra time to get things done at the flight engineer's panel. But it soon became evident that, no matter how much we slowed things down, she could not do the job. My copilot has just upgraded from being a flight engineer on the plane. He knew the job thoroughly. So, I flew the plane. He turned around in his seat, and told her, step-by-step, what to do.

He and I agreed that in case of an emergency I would fly the plane and he would get up out of the copilot's seat, and go back and replace her at the flight engineer's panel. Fortunately, that wasn't necessary. He volunteered to go out early to the airport and help her learn to do the job.

She told us that she was a former Miss Argentina, and had been a model for a major hair care company. Apparently, we were supposed to be impressed, but when a crew member cannot do their job, being a beauty queen impresses no one.

When we got back to New York, I called crew scheduling and told them I would not accept her as a crewmember on any future flights. Crew scheduling said they would assign a flight engineer instructor to the next flight to check her performance and take over the flight engineer duties if necessary. The instructor gave her a failing grade. She was sent back to the training center to repeat flight engineer training. She failed to successfully complete retraining and was fired.

After being fired, she retained an attorney and sued the airline for sexual harassment. Who were the supposed perpetrators? My copilot and me. That was the reason for the meeting in New York. At the meeting, the Chief Pilot told my copilot and me a letter was being put in our personnel file reprimanding us for sexual harassment. The letter also stating that we had been counseled about sexual harassment. My copilot was outraged. He had been doubly betrayed, first by the person he had bent over backwards to help, and now, by the Chief Pilot who for scapegoating us. All hell broke loose. My copilot said things I was sure was going to get him fired. What I didn't know was that the Chief Pilot was my copilot's best friend. The Chief Pilot was on the receiving end of rage by his best friend. My copilot yelled at him, calling him the most vile of names. The Chief Pilot cringed and backed away as the copilot, who was standing, leaned over the seated Chief Pilot and blasted hi m relentlessly. Finally, when the Chief Pilot was able to get a word in, he said, "OK. OK. OK. I promise you both that in one year, these letters will mysteriously disappear."

That wasn't enough for my copilot. He continued to lay into him. Finally, the Chief Pilot confessed, "This is not my doing. My hands are tied. This is coming down from 'upstairs'," meaning the Vice President of Flight Operations. Then, I felt betrayed; the V. P. of Flight Operations was a pilot I had known for years and had had - until that moment - greatly respected. He was scapegoating us to protect himself in case the sexual harassment suit was successful and he was blamed for not being a good manager.

As it turned out, the suit failed when it was learned that she had been previously hired - and then fired - by Trans World Airlines. She had filed suit unsuccessfully against TWA for sexual harassment.The former Miss Argentina had, it turned out used sex to get through training at both airlines. When fired, she used false sexual harassment claims to seek payment from each airline. 

Though the New York Chief Pilot did not have the guts to stand up for my copilot and me, he was true to his word. A year later, the letter of reprimand that had been in my file arrived in the mail.


Grateful For the SOAR Tools


I had an interesting thing happen on my flight to Las Vegas yesterday. We were all set to go and had pushed back already... then we sat there. The pilot came on and said we were going to be towed back to the gate because the airplane wasn’t responding like it should. Once we returned to the gate, he explained to us that the nose wheel had been stuck in a drainage ditch (which they covered with a metal plate as we left), that he was calling maintenance to come look the plane over to be on the safe side. Yes, I got nervous, but no panic. It was almost like I was watching my inner voice from a far off distance. I’m not sure how to explain it. I did text my FA friend asking her if this was normal because I am sure she has been on at least one flight that was loaded and then had an issue. She assured me what you have also said - the pilot will not take off until the airplane is cleared. She likened it to having a check engine light come on for your car. We can go a few days and then have it checked. On airplanes, it must be cleared before it flies again.

I was so grateful to the pilot for keeping us informed and so grateful for SOAR for giving me the tools to be able to stay in the situation as it was without adding to it. I’m also thankful that I met the pilot. Would he have been so informative without me saying I was a fearful flier? Maybe, probably, but I knew he knew I was afraid and having that connection made me feel that he wouldn’t take off unless it was safe. With the American Airlines frequent flier program, we are given cards to recognize outstanding service, and I gave one to the pilot for keeping us apprised of the situation. After I gave him the card and thanked him, he said he was worried about how I’d do. So we did make a connection after all. :)

Many Thanks!


"I Would Have Freaked Out In The Past"

Hi again Captain Tom.
Just to update you, and your readers. I was a very fearful flier. So much so that before attending an overseas college / boarding school (a major life changing move,), all I could think for weeks in advance was the 7 hour flight from, NY to England. And every flight thereafter, I would spend weeks before,imagining the worst, having nightmares, convulsive nightmares. 
Then I somehow heard of this program. And as my lifestyle requires me to travel a lot, I decided to try it!
Nothing has ever changed me as much as this program! And I will add that I still don't love every single part of flying. I still have some work to do, as I would prefer driving whenever possible. But, and it's a big one, I fly / flew so many times  the past year. Calmly!
No nightmares, no terrible stomachaches the night before. Nothing.
I flew to London and back to Canada twice, and from Montreal to Israel and back ( a straight 12 hour flight!) in the Last few months. And have a trip scheduled in approximately 8 weeks to Belgium. (Lots of miles I know!) I really do not know how I would've endured all this traveling if I hadn't done this course. The last 2 flights were pretty bumpy, and I would have freaked out in the past. This time had me saying "the air is jello " and glancing at the half-filled water cup on my tray table (really helps!) I broke a personal record, as I even got up to use the lavatories while the plane shook a bit. Pre-course would have me huddled in my seat, covered with a blanket, and praying fervently. 
So thank you, Captain, thank you so much. 


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Capt Tom Bunn MSW LCSW

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