A woman called out sexual harassment on a transatlantic flight earlier this month after she received inappropriate messages through the plane’s in-flight entertainment system — a move that an expert applauded.
The woman, Jessica Van Meir, 24, was traveling on Virgin Atlantic from London to Washington D.C. when she started receiving the messages shortly after takeoff, according to CNN. The airline’s entertainment system allows passengers to message people in other seats.
The messages called her a “tidy babe” and said “welcome to hell,” according to photos of the seatback screen. But CNN reported that Van Meir, a paralegal, knew exactly how to respond: "i work for a law firm that specializes in online sexual harassment. enjoy being reported to virgin."
She reported the incident to flight attendants who immediately asked if they could speak with the men who sent the messages, according to CNN. Van Meir said the harassment then stopped and flight attendants checked with her throughout the flight.
"It's on a regular basis that women are catcalled," Van Meir told CNN. "It's exhausting and it makes you feel unsafe… I was also appalled and disappointed that someone would be so disrespectful and entitled as to send me messages on a flight when I'm traveling on my own just trying to enjoy my flight peacefully and not be harassed by anyone."
A Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman told Travel + Leisure in an email the company was very concerned by the incident and were investigating it “as a matter of urgency.” The spokeswoman noted that seat-to-seat messaging will not be available on any of the company’s newer aircraft.
“We want all of our customers to have the best possible experience when they fly with us, and have zero tolerance for any disruptive or inappropriate behaviour,” the spokeswoman said. “We are now reviewing our entertainment systems to ensure this does not happen again.”
Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said it’s difficult to prevent this type of situation from happening in the first place — especially on an airplane — but there are a few things you can do in response.
“The person who is committing harassment and assault is really taking advantage of the situation where it’s not really a dynamic where you have that much freedom,” Palumbo told T+L. “What’s important to acknowledge is it’s not appropriate behavior and that you always have the option of calling out that behavior.”
Palumbo said if this happens to you, you should flag down a flight attendant to make a report and you can always ask to change seats.
“For some people when they’ve had that experience of violation, it feels important to them to respond directly. But that’s going to be a very uncomfortable option for some people,” she said. “For some people, it may feel more comfortable to relocate yourself to create some space, to walk over to a flight attendant rather than calling them over just so you can create some distance for yourself.”
Palumbo noted that it’s also important to find a way to cope with the trauma, suggesting it may help to talk about it.
“All forms of harassment or assault, whether they be verbal or written communication, that all impacts someone — it impacts their sense of self, their sense of safety,” she said. “Just because it’s something that happened through technology doesn't mean it doesn't have a real impact on someone.”