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Sexism and Air Travel

by Krista

I want to say this all carefully, because this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that I think about it and thus want to mention it.

I am a woman. I fly on planes, and I probably fly more than many people (but less than some people). So the thing that annoys me is sometimes (and we’re talking 15 to 20% of the time) is that when I go to get in the priority boarding line, airline (or airport) employees will assume I am traveling with the man in front of me or the man behind me, particularly on international flights. I never see them ask men “Are you traveling together?” in regards to the woman in front of or behind them. And trust me, I watch and listen for this. Rather, they get to me and ask me if I’m with the guy that just passed through the boarding gate or the guy behind me. What does this mean? (And if I answered “Yes” what would happen?”)

My interpretation after many instances with this (the latest the other day when boarding my flight to Singapore in Hong Kong) is that the industry don’t see women business travelers that often. (Which also annoys me to no end, but that’s a subject for another post.) Two years ago, when boarding a flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, I was in the priority boarding line and when I got up to the gate, the gate agent actually tried to send me to the back of the queue. “This line is for priority passengers only,” she said, before even looking at my boarding pass. I said nothing and stared at her while I passed her my boarding card. “Oh, you’re a gold member. Please, this way…” (I’ve ruled out dress as an issue. I’m dressed no differently than my fellow passengers, and I will generally even dress better if I’m flying at the front of the plane. That being said, I do look like I’m younger than I am which you think would be great but!!!)

What’s supremely awkward is what happens when you get on the plane. Particularly if I’m sitting in business class, more than once, a flight attendant has asked me if I’m “together” with the man seated next to me. (Calculate the ratio of women to men in business on your next flight and you’ll get it.) Sometimes, these men are old enough to be my father!!! What does that say about the world? And again, if I say “Yes,” what happens?? Is there some special dinner option for two? Special chair functions I don’t know about? Permission to use the bathroom together? WHAT??

Not complaining, really. Just observing. And I’m sure at the end of the day, airline staff are just trying to be nice. But be conscious of it next time and share your stories with me because I am trying to determine if it’s all in my head or if I’m being singled out for some reason.

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