On November 15, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the reconstitution of the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC), including a new subcommittee: the National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force. The ACPAC, which was established by the FAA Modernization and Improvement Act of 2012, last met in September 2015. The committee has historically advised DOT on airline customer service and consumer protection matters, but will now advise DOT on the handling of sexual assault and harassment onboard commercial aircraft.
The Task Force is a product of the recently enacted FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which directs DOT to establish a sexual misconduct incident working group that is composed of “industry stakeholders, relevant Federal agencies, national organizations that specialize in providing services to victims of sexual misconduct, labor organizations that represent relevant aviation employees, and State and local law enforcement agencies.” The Act requires DOT to provide a report to Congress by October 4, 2019, on “best practices” for (1) addressing sexual misconduct on flights; (2) airline employee training to address sexual misconduct; and (3) protocols for law enforcement notification to address sexual misconduct in aviation settings.
The legislation is in response to concerns among airline employees that passenger-on-airline employee and passenger-on-passenger assault or harassment is rarely reported to law enforcement. Currently, reports of sexual assault while in the cabin are relayed from the passenger(s) to the cabin manager, who then alerts the pilot in command on the flight deck. It is usually the pilot who makes the determination to involve law enforcement. Some members of Congress pushed for legislation specifically regulating how airlines address instances of sexual misconduct onboard aircraft. For example, the “Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act” would have required airlines to establish and publish policies for the reporting of assault and harassment complaints. The Task Force may ultimately recommend that DOT promulgate regulations to address these concerns.
The first ACPAC meeting will be held on January 16, 2019 to discuss best practices and protocols for air carriers relating to training, reporting, and data collection of sexual assault onboard commercial aircraft. The agenda will include consumer protection issues, such as the transparency of airline ancillary service fees and involuntary changes to passenger itineraries.