Earlier I shared the story of a female Alaska Airlines first officer who claimed she was drugged and raped by her male captain during a layover in Minneapolis last June. She’s now suing the airline over the issue. When I first wrote about the story, the details of the incident were fairly limited, and there were a lot more questions than answers. However, The Seattle Times has a story that provides a much clearer timeline of what happened, and it sure sounds to me like there’s a lot of merit to her story, and also to her suing the airline.
The entire story is worth a read, though let me summarize best I can, since it’s quite long:
- On June 5, 2017, 39 year old Betty Pina operated a flight with the 50 year old captain to Minneapolis, and they went to the crew hotel together, and met in the executive lounge for drinks
- The captain served her a glass of wine, she thought it tasted funny, and after a few sips she couldn’t keep her head up and felt the walls closing in on her — “From there, I don’t remember leaving the concierge room, the elevator ride or walking down the hallway to my room. When I woke up, everything was hazy. I remember seeing a figure, somebody pulling at my right ankle, and rolling over and trying to say ‘No.’ And then, I was out again.”
- The next morning she found herself naked in the captain’s bed with vomit, she was racked by confusion and sickness, and didn’t want to lose her 17 year career in aviation, which is why she didn’t initially call 911
- On the night of the incident, a flight attendant reported that he observed the captain walking in the hotel hallway with two glasses of wine and a woman who appeared to be in danger; he didn’t feel safe working with the pilot, so he apparently reported it to crew scheduling
- The captain’s room was called regarding his fitness to fly, and he admitted that he had been drinking, so the captain and first officer were both taken off duty, and flown back to Seattle as passengers later that day
- During that flight, the captain told the first officer “that [she had] been really drunk and had come on to him,” and he tried to persuade her to “get [their] stories straight”
- Once back in Seattle, both pilots were questioned over the next two days by the airline and the union; initially she didn’t feel comfortable reporting the rape, but changed her mind after finding a handprint bruise on her left thigh, and other bruising, so she ended up reporting this to her union two days after the assault
- The airline placed her on paid leave starting in June, telling her not to talk about the investigation
- In early July she once again detailed this to a lawyer who was hired by the airline to investigate the incident, primarily to see if the pilots had been drinking within 10 hours of departure (and therefore should be disciplined), and not to actually investigate the rape
- In August she was told that a review of the hotel’s security footage showed the captain forcibly kissing her in the elevator, and that she was incapacitated, and that it took 18 to 20 minutes to get from the elevator to the room, and she was putting up a fight
- In December she was finally told she’d soon be able to return to work, and her crew chief asked her why she didn’t press charges; she was shocked by this, because until that moment she assumed that telling the company and supervisor was enough
- She was returned to active duty in January
Her attorneys served the airline with a legal complaint detailing the allegations in mid-February. The airline didn’t take any corrective action, and the captain still works at the airline, and she’s scared she’ll be forced to fly with him again some day:
“My hope is that by me doing this, it may protect other women,” Pina said. “How many other victims are out there? I may not be the first case, but I hope to be the last. It’s time to take responsibility. The culture needs to change. We can’t sweep this under the rug any longer.”
“I wanted to get back in the cockpit flying before moving forward with anything,” she said. “Now that I have, I am.”
Wow to all of this. Assuming all of the above is true, it seems like she has a really strong case, and like the airline should be ashamed for not taking corrective action against the captain here.
As a man I can’t fully relate to what it’s like to be a woman in this situation. I can say that I’m disgusted when people say things like “she asked for it” or “well why didn’t she say anything earlier?” That’s easy to say when you’re a guy. Unfortunately we still live in a world where women feel shame when they’re the ones being abused, though that’s slowly changing for the better.
I don’t take what the first officer is doing here lightly. This takes guts — the sense of shame she may feel from being raped (due to social stigma), the male-dominated culture at the airline that probably puts her in a very uncomfortable situation, and the general public attention for this.
While it’s a little bit different, a while ago I saw the documentary called “The Keepers,” about a nun who worked at a school and was murdered. In the end it exposed a priest who had raped dozens of teenage girls and had gotten away with it. It took decades for the women who were raped to come forward, and some are even only doing so now, nearly 50 years later. There’s an immense of shame they felt, and that’s sad. If there’s one thing that documentary reinforced for me it’s that I’d never dare question how long it takes someone to come forward to detail sexual assault. That’s not totally relevant here, since I think two days is a pretty quick timeline with which to come forward.