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FBI seeing an increase in reported sexual assaults on aircrafts

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 19:05:01-04

Every sexual assault is different, but the FBI has identified patterns. The inappropriate touching or even aggravated assault tends to happen on lengthier, overnight flights. 

“Many of the victims are seated in middle or window seats, are covered by a blanket or a jacket and oftentimes are asleep,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian Nadeau with the FBI Violent Crimes division.

The FBI wouldn't give numbers but said that the number of reported incidents are on the rise. Maryland Transportation Authority Police also records any reported incidents. They confirmed that the most recent incident happened on May 29.

The FBI's Air Aware campaign is meant to inform the public that this can happen to anyone and they also want to warn offenders that this is a federal crime.

"If you think of any crime that's committed in the United States, we typically are looking for a suspect or subject, we have a description. On-board an aircraft, we've got the manifest. We will have your name as it appears on your driver's license, and your date of birth. You cannot go anywhere, you cannot physically open the doors on a plane while on-board," said FBI Special Agent David Rodski, Airport Liaison.

Predators are also known to test their victims first and see if they wake-up to their advances.

"Our greatest challenge that we have is when people report these things after. We need them to be reported immediately to the crew so that law enforcement can greet that aircraft, so we can detain both the subject, the victim, and the witnesses as well," Rodski said.

Even with the increase in reported incidents, the FBI knows and suspects that not everyone is coming forward.

“Shame and guilt, self-blame and sometimes just not knowing who to call,” said Renee Murrell, a victim specialist with the FBI Baltimore Division.

Individual airlines have their own procedures when it comes to notifying MDTA police and the FBI of these kinds of incidents. See their responses below.

United Airlines

The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. Sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior, intimidation or predation have absolutely no place anywhere in our society -- including, and especially, in our industry and on our aircraft. We encourage our customers to always report incidents of sexual harassment to our onboard crew members, who are trained to address these situations immediately, including calling for law enforcement to meet the aircraft upon arrival. We increased training for our flight attendants in this area and will continue to reinforce these methods in 2019.

Charles Hobart
Public Relations

Delta Airlines

“Delta crews are trained to respond to a number of onboard passenger disruptions, and our crews treat all reports of harassment as serious as the safety of our customers and crews are our top priority.”  

When we become aware of incidents onboard, we investigate and can take a number of steps including reaching out to local law enforcement either independently or when requested by the customer. 
Examples of situations crew members are trained to handle.
·        Harassment (sexual, verbal and written)
·        Offensive material
·        Disruptive passengers
·        Assault
·        Intoxication
·        Failing to follow crew instructions

American Airlines

Our flight attendants take the concerns of our passengers very seriously and work to address any issues that are brought to their attention. This may include separating and moving passengers, if necessary,  and coordinating with the flight deck to have law enforcement meet the flight upon arrival.

We are acting to support our team members, including providing enhanced training for flight attendants that focuses on passenger misconduct. In addition, we have made it easier for our team members to report – and ultimately address – concerns.  If team members see something or experience unwelcome advances, they deserve the best internal oversight and resolution processes we can offer.

Southwest Airlines

We take the protection of our Customers very seriously, and safety is always at the forefront of everything we do at Southwest Airlines. Our crews are trained to take care of a wide range of sensitive customer issues, and we have zero tolerance for any type of assault onboard our aircraft. If our Crews are made aware of a harmful situation—whether witnessed first-hand or reported by someone else—our Flight Attendants are trained to notify the Pilots who will request law enforcement meet the aircraft upon landing, as appropriate.  Then, Southwest cooperates with law enforcement to the fullest extent to protect our customers and crews. 
Finally, we don’t report publicly release numbers regarding incidents onboard our aircraft. However, we can share that we are not seeing an upward trend in sexual assaults over the past few years.

Dan Landson
Communications | Media Relations