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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Sexual Harassment in Aviation

Impacts Safety! 

It's about time that we all "speak out" regarding Sexual Harassment in the airline industry, because it does impact safety. April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and there is no better time than now to share the injustices. There are no protections for these women because EEOC has as little knowledge regarding aviation as does OSHA for airline safety. Unfortunately HR works for the company not the employee, and these women are required to remain silent until they retire.

Kathy McCullough Author of 

How Harassment Impacts 
Aviation Safety

A Captain grabs First Officer Laura Savino's breast while she's handflying the approach on short final. She has to make a choice between her physical embarrassment and the control of her body versus smacking the "man in charge" and the safety of everyone on board. She continues to fly, humiliated. 

A Captain throws the paperwork into the garbage and pours coffee on it after he asks Tammie Jo Shultz if she needed it. A captain stamps on her hat destroying it, not once but multiple times... Tammie Jo was even terminated by a false accusation of a new hire who, despite his overt falsifications nearly destroying her career, later becomes a management pilot. Had they succeeded getting rid of her, flight 1380 may have had different results. 

While Tammie Jo and Laura Savino are retired and can speak to these events in their memoirs (both excellent books), there are many women who cannot speak because they are still employed, and the airline's "social media" policy enforces silence. But it's this silence that is propagating the continuation of these events and forcing these women to suffer in silence. For some, they are fighting back through lawsuits. But many do not have the means. Yet even those who do fight, without public awareness nothing will ever change. And I am one to attest that the legal battle feels like you're being raped in the process. 

Sarah Hammel's recent article, sharing the rape of Flight Attendant Erica, speaks volumes as to the nightmare that is ongoing for many women. She was drug and the company did nothing. Erica was even asked what she wearing, as if it was her fault that pilot had no control of raping her because of the clothing she wore. Sexual harassment and rape is still ongoing and nobody is doing anything about it. Airline management blames the woman and appears to condone the behavior. 

Then there was Captain Ratfield... 

Captain Andrea Ratfield

Captain Andrea Ratfield had a check airman pound on her door at 2 am to go drink with him. She refused, but he ensured her performance evaluation reflected her off-duty unwillingness to participate. Chief Pilots and a Regional Director gathered in an office to discuss the fit of her pants in vulgar terms. She followed due process, went to HR, yet they did nothing. Unfortunately things got worse after she spoke out. Then, at a female aviation event, someone put something in her drink and she awakens to a stranger raping her. 

As if rape couldn't get any worse, a now Delta manager asked her if she was drinking at the time, as if that gave permission to the rapist. This manager was convinced that if she were drinking, she had to be an alcoholic and that was the reason for the rape. She was told that she would get rape counseling if she went into the HIMS program. Sadly, there was no rape counselling. They also never tested to see if she was an alcoholic. But they did lock her into a facility where VP James Graham (the very person who orchestrated my potential demise) sat on the board of directors. Once out of rehab, the company ordered a Dry Blood Spot PEth (DBS) test, a non FDA approved test, known to produce false positives, of which they used in attempted to remove her as a pilot. The chain of events clearly indicates the company was utilizing the HIMS program to remove her as a pilot, just as they attempted with the Section 15 process in my case. 

Andrea is a fighter, not unlike Erica, and is the reason for the class action lawsuit against “USDTL” CASE NO. 22-CV-62325. Andrea also has a gender discrimination lawsuit against Delta. This woman went through years of hell putting up with and fighting the atrocities internally, and not until management decided to destroy her career, did she file her lawsuit. Standby, there is more to come on these cases. 

Captain Ratfield also filed an ASAP report because she and her female first officer were ignored and laughed at when they attempted to notify the ground crew they were fueling the plane with the door closed. A violation and huge safety risk to all passengers on board.  The ground crew refused to listen to the pilots because they were women. To my knowledge, the company took no action against the employees. 

And then there was Christine Janning. 

Captain Christine Janning

Captain Janning, as a First Officer, had to live through the horrific experience of her captain completely disrobing and masterbating in the cockpit. What was she to do... leave the environment? Who's flying the plane? Apparently EEOC doesn't understand the unique challenges that women being assaulted and harassed in the flightdeck must endure. 

Christine filed a complaint against her perpetrator and the airline for the event and those that followed. Her management was even planning to send her to a mental health evaluation as Delta did with me, but at the news of Delta losing their case, their appeal, and the Seattle Times article with Delta finally throwing in the towel after a seven year battle, Christine's management decided otherwise. 

This behavior should not be happening in today's world. But what can these women do? If they report, they are flagged as troublemakers and the rumors become about them. They are shunned professionally. They face losing their careers if they speak out. Some airlines also engage in a war of attrition, meaning management is simply going to battle and dragging it out in court for one purpose only... to financially break the complainant, as Delta did with my case. 

Ladies, I'm asking you:

  • Do not fear reporting. There are people out there willing to help you.
  • Please do not sign an NDA. If the company wants you to settle, there is a reason. You do not have to sign an NDA as part of the agreement. Read Jet Boss and you'll see how Laura addressed it. I did not sign. We need to let the public know that these events are ongoing.
  • If you are raped, go to the hospital and get tested.
  • If you were drugged, go to the hospital and get a blood test.
  • Do not remain silent, this is not your fault.
The Solution: 

What we need to do is create a Federal Aviation Regulation to prevent harassment and the violation of corporate ethical compliance. Yes, airlines have ethics, no-harassment, and non-retaliation policies, but it's my experience that they do not follow them. At least one airline I know does not. If anyone is harassed and retaliated against for reporting their issue, then the employee could file an AIR21 instead of dealing with EEOC. This would provide a level of protection and should improve safety. FAR's are designed to improve safety. Clearly something must be done if this behavior is ongoing. 


First we need to get the AIR21 law changed because it does not protect the employee as it should. Delta has proven that the AIR21 Statute (whistleblower law) is ineffective if the company declares a war of attrition on the employee. The airline's insurance pays their fees and the employee may not recoup all their expenses due to compensatory damages and only "reasonable" attorney fees.  

Please help me change that law. Please Read, Sign, and Share the link below with everyone you know. We need to take action to help all employees. This law change is the first step. Stand by for the future FAR. It's time we address one of the most serious safety concerns of the airline industry. 

If you have not done so yet,
Thank you! 
Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene 


  1. I have had great experiences flying with women as captains and first officers, with one exception. I was flying a charter flight in a Piper Navajo Chieftan. I had a female first officer on the flight. I thought things were going well until the trip ended. That's when she said sarcastically, "thanks for letting me put up the gear." Here I was thinking that she must be impressed with my superior flying abilities. In truth, I should have let her fly a leg. That would have been the right thing to do. She taught me a lesson that I remembered from that day on.

    1. Oh... what a great lesson that was for sure! Sometimes we don't do things on purpose, we just are not as aware as we could be. Those little messages are a wakeup call for sure. Thank you for sharing that story.

  2. Great work, Karlene. the fact you have the energy to put together articles like this after all you've been through is a testament to your fighting spirit. This cannot be hidden any more. We need allies- MEN IN POWER-- in the airline industry to do the hard things, stand up for what's right, let it be known this isn't OK in your workplace. In my opinion, those in power who don't speak up are complicit.

    1. Thank you Sara!! The challenge is when weak men with big egos are in charge. Like schoolyard bullies!

  3. I am sorry to hear of the appalling behaviour and treatment you have experienced. Seems to me that your objectives are good but I do wonder why you don't form a union and collectivise over the issues? Or is their a union you can join and bring into the battle to help?

    1. That is a great idea, but there is a union... they focus on the men because they are the the majority of the membership by 92-96% And in Delta's case, they own ALPA.... and ALPA works with the company. It's a challenge. But pilots can't have two union's on the property.

  4. I believe there maybe only few cases because in my experience I've never seen a female pilot complaining about this and all I knew look like pretty happy. Like in every environment there are bad things happening. But I can tell that as male pilot I had a lot of gey cabin crew trying to approach me and it is also disturbing so what should we do? What law can we change? I think there is nothing to do, you can't change people nature and everyone has to learn how to deal with them. Some story you mentioned look also a bit strange. For example I wonder how someone on the left seat can grab the breast of someone on the right seat, unless is a cessna it looks pretty difficult to achieve and without to interfere with flight controls. In an airline I've been a pilot has been fired because he stopped by putting his hand on the shoulder of a rude cabin crew that was going away from the cockpit without to hear what the pilot was telling her. So is this also not exaggerated? And it looks the opposite of the end of the stories you mentioned. Once a cabin crew instead she was asking me why I didn't go to knock to her hotel room door and I was really surprised about that sentence. It is very difficult sometimes to establish where is the fault when there are ambiguous behaviours and it is full of ambiguous behaviour. Is responsability of every single person to keep the environment safe and respect each other but you can't change a wolf if she/he born as a wolf even with regulations.

    1. Apparently you do not fly for the airlines. Yes, you can reach across a 737 without issue. Asserting Laura's story if false, is part of the problem. Assuming everyone smiles therefore there is no problem is the next part of the problem. Thinking that nobody is saying anything, then there is nothing wrong... is extremely naive. There is an ongoing, living problem and something must be done. Hopefully a loved one of yours never faces such torment. Regarding the wolfe concept... yes, he may be born a wolfe, but you can castrate him. Capital punishment works. A man rapes a woman his genitals should be cut off in public. I suspect you do that to one person and behavior of those other wolves would change. Or on a nicer note... perhaps the company could terminate them. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I was recently demeaned, yelled at , harrassed in cockpit and out of cockpit. He sat near me at a bar not beside me and told a guy he was going to F me. The bartender heard it too. Capt told me I didn't have the rank to speak to him. I went to Chief Pilot (135) not a word . I went o Hr the company is now investigating. The same capt did similar to another woman pilot at same company . He was fired. Then rehired by same company. I have contacted some employment attorneys waiting to see what will happen. I had my PTO days taken from me to get away from capt. Doesn't seem reasonable.

    1. It's not reasonable. And, the company could be liable. Your company has the responsibility to keep you safe. The fact they rehired this guy, with the knowledge of what he's done and doing, they will be liable. Good luck with your legal counsel! Keep me posted.


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