July 24, 2018

United Airlines Crew Joked When Man Started Masturbating Openly

Genevieve Pascolla was traveling from London to Chicago on June 4th. During the flight, she awoke from a nap to a disturbing sight. The man sitting next to her was masturbating underneath a blanket mid-flight.

Pascolla and the woman next to her notified the flight attendants who confirmed the man was masturbating in public. After moving the women to new seats, Pascolla claims the attendants joked about the situation asking, “What perfume are you wearing?” and excused the man’s action saying, “He’s had a bit of wine”.

For Pascolla, this disgusting act was no laughing matter. Clearly, these actions created a toxic environment of sexual harassment.

Pascolla gave United Airlines the chance to respond to the situation and make proper reparations. It took United a month and a half to respond to her complaint with nothing more than a short apology for the “uncomfortable situation”. As a result, she has taken her story to the public.

She discussed the details of the incident, including video evidence, in a post to Instagram:

⚠️*Trigger Warning*⚠️ On June 4th I was on a #unitedairlines flight from Heathrow to Chicago. On this flight the man next to me started masturbating I woke up and saw him touching himself under a blanket (see attached video) I woke the woman next to me and got out of there to tell a flight attendant the attendants checked and confirmed that he was masturbating in public. Once I got up the woman next to me saw and she also got up. They gave us new seats. They then started making jokes about the situation asking “what perfume are you wearing” and excusing him saying “he’s had a bit of wine” no one stopped him. He was allowed to finish, with a child sitting closely by. After exiting the plane first to talk to security the security guard asked me if I’d like an apology from the offender I immediately rejected the request. It took @unitedairlines a month an a half to respond to my complaint. And I received this email today. I am appalled at the lack of action taken in this situation in which as a woman, I was terrified. This man is clearly capable of much more. So women and men out there pick an airline that cares about your safety. #unitedairlines referring to being assaulted on one of your flight as a “uncomfortable experience” is a bit of an understatement. (See email) your lack of action is disgusting. @united #unitedairlines #metoo

A post shared by 𝕲𝖊𝖓𝖊𝖛𝖎𝖊𝖛𝖊 𝕱𝖗𝖆𝖓𝖈𝖊𝖘𝖈𝖆 𝕻𝖆𝖘𝖈𝖔𝖑𝖑𝖆 (@genevieve.f.p) on

Unfortunately, stories like Genevieve’s are becoming more common. The FBI is now reporting that sexual assaults on commercial airline flights are increasing “at an alarming rate”. FBI investigations into midair sexual assaults increased by 66% from 2014 to 2017, and NCOSE has noticed an increasing number of reports about  men watching pornography or openly masturbating on flights as well.

Airline flight attendants often lack proper training on how to handle situations of sexual harassment, as evidenced in the case above. Sara Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant and president of the union, told CNN, “In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault.” Inability to properly deal with these situations leads to a toxic environment of sexual harassment.

.@United Train your flights crews on how to properly handle in-flight sexual assault and harassment. People should be able to #FlyFree from sexual harassment. https://endsexualexploitation.org/flyfree/ Click To Tweet

In response to the rising number of airline incidents, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation started Fly Free from Sexual Harassment, a project dedicated to ending sexual exploitation on airplanes and in airports. You can visit our webpage to learn more about this issue and ways in which you can help prevent in-flight sexual harassment.

Want to take action now? Fill out the form below to send an email to United, Delta, and American Airlines telling them to improve flight crew trainings. Together we can prevent cases of sexual exploitation on airplanes.

Ben Miller

Former Digital Strategies Coordinator

Ben joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation as Digital Strategies Coordinator in July of 2018. As Digital Strategies Coordinator, Ben raises awareness for issues of sexual exploitation through digital media, email marketing, and website development. He works to create a community of activists who are enthusiastic about combating sexual exploitation and changing culture.

Ben earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He graduated with Honors in the Liberal Arts and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. During his college career, Ben spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C. and interned for a member of Congress. On campus, he actively sought to change Greek culture, especially with respect to sexual exploitation, through his membership in Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. Ben also supported his peers who were afflicted by the harms of pornography through a weekly men’s purity group.

Ben’s deep commitment to fighting sexual exploitation was ignited in part by the work done by NCOSE. While writing a research literature review for a public policy class in college, he came across Porn Harms Research and the initiatives being carried out by NCOSE. Ben, a strong anti-pornography activist at the time, began to learn more about the connections between all forms of exploitation and how prominent these issues are in today’s society. He devoted himself to raising awareness about the web of sexual exploitation and is deeply grateful for the work NCOSE has done on these issues. Ben is excited to be a part of the team at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and to contribute to this important cause.

Further Reading