2009-12-19 11:49:37 UTC
The sudden rush of charges of sexual harassment of airhostesses has
turned the spotlight on the tough situations they have to deal with
daily, says Reena Martins
HASSLE AND HARASS: In-flight training for airhostesses (in pic) can
only partly prepare them for the travails of their job
?Madam, do have snakes and cock??
It was a Bhavnagar bound flight and Rochelle, the 20-something
attendant on the low cost flight, had just finished demonstrating the
emergency response drill when a passenger suddenly asked her for what
seemed like reptiles and fowl. A few minutes later, after she had
decoded the man?s request ? with help from other members of the cabin
crew ? Rochelle placed a tray of sandwiches and Coke before him.
Clearly, a flight attendant?s job is a taxing one. So much so that two
members of a cabin crew, including an airhostess, got into a brawl
with pilots aboard a Sharjah-Lucknow-Delhi flight last month. The
airhostess accused one of the pilots of molesting her ? a charge that
the National Commission for Women later said was untrue. But the
incident once again put the focus on a cabin crew?s exploits ?
hundreds of thousands of feet above sea level.
Airhostesses lead hard lives. They are sexually harassed, abused and
are rudely spoken to. But there are lighter moments too. ?It is only
when we sit down to chat among ourselves that we realise how funny
some situations are,? says Ramona, 32, who is a flight attendant in a
Deciphering a passenger?s demands and remarks needs special skills.
But airhostesses manage to keep a straight face even when a traveller
declares himself a ?vegetable? (upon being asked his food references),
or when another asks for a window seat because he finds it stuffy and
Some passengers come up with propositions that verge on the obscene.
Rochelle was offered a modelling assignment by a 12-year-old girl on a
recent flight. The girl said that she had been sent by her father, who
was also on the flight. A visiting card explained that her services
were required for a lingerie company.
But those are minor peccadilloes compared with some of the other
activities that passengers indulge in. The cabin crew of a New York
bound flight was amazed when they found that on the upper deck an
Indian couple ? a Sindhi man and a South Indian woman ? were having
sex in full view of co-passengers. ?But besides throwing blankets on
the couple, there was nothing we could do,? says Ramona.
Often, situations demand tact. Former airhostess Shonali recalls an
incident when there were complaints that an African passenger?s tall
hat obstructed others? view of the on-flight film. The gentleman,
however, said he would remove it only if his Sikh co-passenger took
off his turban. ?Instead of unleashing a civil war, I told objecting
passengers to just bear up,? says Shonali.
On a flight from Singapore to Sydney, Shonali and her colleague
stumbled in the dark upon a couple ? a French woman and Australian man
? having sex near one of the aircraft doors. The two airhostesses took
their place in the jump seats near the door and stared officiously at
the couple. It worked ? the woman ran to the toilet, but the unlucky
man had to wait for his turn, and stood there, baring his bottom,
while the two women continued to stare at him fixedly. ?After he left,
we burst into laughter,? says Shonali.
The other memorable moments often deal with celebrities on board.
Rochelle remembers how disappointed she was on seeing superstar
Rajnikanth, who bore no resemblance to his screen image in real life.
Shonali recalls telling actor Sunil Dutt that she had seen his film
Padosan some 25 times. ?He said most people talked to him only about
his son?s films,? she says.
Another Bollywood actor charmed her into disguising a peg of whiskey
as fruit juice to hoodwink a nagging wife on an international flight.
But celebrities are generally well behaved, says Rochelle. Ramona,
however, recalls how she was disappointed in a much revered Bollywood
actor who was travelling club class and insisted on standing in the
aisle and talking to his wife and son, who were in the economy class.
When repeated requests to the actor to step aside failed, Ramona
announced to passengers that she could serve them only after the
gentleman had finished his ?important conversation with his wife?. The
actor sheepishly walked away.
Humour often helps the crew tackle uncomfortable situations. One
passenger, who wanted medicine for a headache, made a face when she
was given a pill and asked for a ?foreignwallah? medicine. The
attendant asked the passenger if she had a foreign headache.
Sometimes, passengers are not pleasant. Ramona once had to slap a man
who had molested her. Most airhostesses, however, try to ignore the
acts of sexual harassment. One of the attendants points out that
complaints about molestation by passengers are not always reported as
attendants often feel embarrassed about going public with the
incidents. Proving the charges ? getting witnesses to testify and so
on ? is a daunting task as well.
?Women are generally afraid to stand up for their rights. A lot of
airhostesses suffer from low self esteem after being insulted by
passengers ? which happens often,? says Shonali.
Shonali found being tough worked for her. When male passengers snapped
their fingers, whistled or made a sound to get her attention, she?d
often say: ?I?m not your dog, your ayah or wife.?
The job undoubtedly, is tough. Flight attendants spend hours on their
feet, in high-heeled shoes, pandering to the whims of passengers who
believe that because they have paid for their tickets, the employees
on board are their personal slaves. Most attendants, who earn anything
between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000, not counting allowances, have to be
away from home for two or three nights at a stretch on long flights.
But, in the long run, clearly it?s a lot of fun. For it?s laughter,
among other things, that keeps them going.
(Some names have been changed on request)