"The man shuffled into the flight late, after all the other passengers were seated. He acted 'like he was jumping out of his skin,' recalled the woman in the next seat.
After the lights had dimmed for the overnight flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Panama, the man sexually assaulted her, said the woman, a Los Angeles film executive who asked that her identity be shielded.
After yelling and struggling with the man, she got the attention of a flight attendant, who moved her to another seat on the October 2017 flight. The assailant remained seated next to another female passenger, the woman said, and no attempt was made to isolate or restrain him.
The trauma from the incident has lingered. 'I avoid all night flights,' she said.
Reports of sexual harassment and assault on commercial flights are on the rise, although law enforcement officials say the problem is underreported. Airlines and federal officials have moved to address the issue by voicing a policy of zero tolerance for such acts and improving training to deal with reports.
But flight attendants and lawmakers say airlines need to do more. They are calling for carriers to adopt a consistent set of protocols for responding to such incidents. They want airlines to collect data on the reports of attacks and harassment. They want carriers to offer new training for flight attendants to respond to these occurrences.
'We want to make sure we have all the tools to deal with these incidents,' said Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Assn. of Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines."