by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 桃園市空服員職業工會/Facebook

EVA AIR’S TREATMENT of its flight attendants has been under scrutiny after several incidents in the past month. The first incident, which was widely reported on internationally, involved a flight attendant being made to wipe the buttocks of a Caucasian male passenger. The second incident involved a flight attendant who was aggressively questioned by management for over three hours over allegations that she acted in a pornographic video posted on the Internet.

With regards to the first incident, EVA Airways has come under fire for allowing the passenger onto the flight, to begin with. This took place despite that the man had a past record of sexual harassment of female flight attendants, including incidents of defecating in his seat, making flight attendants clean his urine, and spilling a drink on himself and making flight attendants clean it up.

Press conference held about the incident involving the male passenger held by EVA workers. Photo credit: 桃園市空服員職業工會/Facebook

As such, though not widely reported on or discussed in such a lens in Taiwanese media, the incident has been criticized as an incidence of sexism and racism against the flight attendant. Criticisms, too, have followed against EVA for its poor treatment of its employees. EVA has been unresponsive to attempts to raise issues with their handling of the incident, however.

Namely, despite that the man was on a no-fly list, the man was still allowed onto the flight, reportedly because there was no space in his name on the no-fly list. That a simple typo led to the man being allowed onto flights is something which raises a number of questions about the flight-screening system for airlines in Taiwan.

The incident originally came to light because the flight attendant posted about the incident on social media. Subsequently, the flight attendant has been represented by the Taoyuan Flight Attendant’s Union in press conferences, the union which has been the leading force for unionization efforts among flight attendants and other airline workers since the historic China Airlines strike in summer 2016, which it was the principal actor behind.

However, it is highly possible that EVA will actually try to punish the flight attendant for speaking out, in line with disciplinary actions taken by Taiwanese airlines against unions for demanding better conditions. While the man has reportedly another flight booked in May, EVA appears to not have taken any action to cancel his flight.

Demonstration by EVA fight attendants in response to recent incidents. Photo credit: 桃園市空服員職業工會/Facebook

With regards to the second incident, a different flight attendant was aggressively questioned by airline officials for over three hours regarding allegations that she was an online pornographic actress that goes by the pseudonym SukiSukiGirl. The airline had apparently received an anonymous letter claiming that the flight attendant was SukiSukiGirl. Airline staff reportedly attempted to force her to provide proof that she was not SukiSukiGirl, asking probing questions about her about her personal life in a manner which seemed to assume her guilt.

This was done on the basis that the company needed to defend its brand, even with regards to what flight attendants do privately on their own time. By coincidence, the questioning of this flight attendant took place on the same day as the first incident. The flight attendant, who has remained anonymous, has also been represented by the Taoyuan Flight Attendant’s Union.

Both incidents call attention to the poor conditions in the airline industry for flight attendants. Flight attendants are made to work long hours under poor conditions for meager pay, with management frequently seeking to increase hours while decreasing pay. This was what led to the China Airlines strike in 2016 and other labor demonstrations by flight attendants in the years since, including a strike by EVA flight attendants in 2018. EVA was one of the airlines which sought to unionize in the aftermath of the China Airlines strike, despite that EVA has historically forbidden labor unions, leading to a 2018 strike.

The 2016 China Airlines strike. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Likewise, female flight attendants face overt sexism from customers and even their superiors, the latter of which hold flight attendants to an exacting standard with the claim that this is necessary to defend the reputation of their airlines both on the job and with regards to their personal lives. Apart from that airlines enforce restrictive regulations on the personal appearance of flight attendants, past incidents have included female flight attendants called on to serve male VIPs at private events, as occurred in 2017 in an incident involving Far Eastern flight attendants. Many of these issues return to sexist views of flight attendants in society, which think of female flight attendants and their jobs in a highly objectified manner.

While it has been a positive development that flight attendants have begun to organize unions to stand up for their rights, in the years since the China Airlines strike, airline companies have retaliated against union organizers on many occasions, both in the aftermath of the 2016 China Airlines strike and after the 2017 EVA strike. As such, it would not be surprising if, rather than take action to address any issues raised by these two incidents, EVA Airlines instead tries to retaliate against the Taoyuan Flight Attendant’s Union. Both incidents raise a number of deep-rooted issues in the airline industry which need to be addressed, then.

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