When air hostess Payal Sharma (23) walks down an airplane aisle in her red heels, she is often aware that some passengers click photographs of her legs with their cellphone cameras.
“Earlier these thoughts wouldn’t let me sleep, but now I feel numbed,” said Sharma.
Just about a year in the aviation industry has taught her to ignore lecherous looks, lewd remarks and perverts waiting for a chance to touch her.
Thousands of young women living out of suitcases and juggling time zones have learnt to take these challenges with a straight face. “We are trained to smile at people even if they are staring at my breasts,” said Smriti Mathur, a senior flight attendant with a low-cost carrier.
To make matters worse, airline managements often discourage the crew from lodging a complaint in case a passenger misbehaves with them, fearing negative publicity. “This is the most discussed topic during our refresher course,” added Mathur.
Those who opt to complain have invited more trouble than justice.
For instance, a GoAir air hostess spent over three hours at the Sahar police station after Ved Prakash, a Jaipur-bound passenger, allegedly molested her. The police fined Prakash Rs 1,200 and let him off.
“What is the point of going through this trouble?” the air hostess asked.
Meanwhile in-flight crew training institutes too have begun giving lessons to deal with unruly passengers.
“There is a chapter on tackling unruly fliers that discusses guidelines stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),” said a senior official from Frankfinn Airhostess Academy.
Some young women, who could not handle the pressure in the aviation industry, have joined customer care jobs in other sectors.
Alisha Sheikh, for instance, who worked with a full service carrier took a salary cut but chose to join a call centre in Malad.
“At least, here I do not have to deal with people trying to touch me,” Sheikh said.
She added that many fliers had tried to fondle her under the pretext of stretching their arms.