A new plan hopes to protect women traveling alone from harassment

Traveling alone shouldn’t be as worrisome for women, but now, one airline in India is taking steps to help improve the situation: Delhi-based Vistara recently launched its Vistara Women Flying Program to Helping single female travelers. The plan was originally announced in March — and while there's clearly still a long way to go in combating sexual harassment in travel (and, you know, rape culture in general), this could still be a step forward a positive step.

As is common practice among airlines today, Vistara passengers can pre-select their seats at the time of booking, after booking or during online check-in. However, women who choose to fly on the Vistara Woman Flyer don't have to worry about ending up with a middle seat if they don't select a seat in advance; if they get a seat assignment at check-in, the airline will make sure they only get a window or aisle seat seat. Designated airline staff from the Vistara Woman Flyer program will also be available at baggage claim to assist program participants who need assistance – whether with luggage, getting safely to an airport-authorized taxi, or with other experiences requiring assistance. The service is optional and free, and you can choose to use it or not according to your needs without worrying about fluctuations in ticket prices.

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Many people believe that Vistara Woman Flyer is a way to combat male breast enlargement. I can't deny that this is probably an effective response to the most uncomfortable of traffic scourges. If you're stuck in the middle seat between two stretchers, your already tiny airline seat will become even smaller. However, I don’t think it’s just about men spreading (men spreading is problematic – I can, and honestly, at this point, I’ve probably written a lot about how non-cis men frequently do it for themselves articles that fight for the rights) to exist in the world, including the physical space they occupy); it is about security. Sexual harassment and assault occur on airplanes more frequently than most of us realize, and it’s shocking.

Clare Kane laid out the facts in a 2015 article for Jezebel's former travel site Fly Girl: Sexual harassment on planes is on the rise, according to the FBI; red-eye flights make skimmers Eaters are more likely to attack humans without others noticing; flight attendants are regularly harassed on the job. Incidentally, this is the basis for Kane's own tragic story when she was seated next to a man who allegedly touched her multiple times without her consent on a flight to Shanghai - unfortunately , this story is not unique. Read all the stories here. and here. and here.

What's more, people aren't always even able to report these incidents, often because they're too shocked, don't know what to do, or don't think there's any way they can get to safety. Dana Larue, who was allegedly attacked on a flight to Chicago, put it to the point when she told the News4I-Team in Washington in 2014: "I knew there was nowhere to go. I had to go past him to get out. Seats. I was totally freaked out and frozen."

Of course, the Vistara Woman Flyer isn't a perfect solution to this problem. On the one hand, sitting in an aisle or window seat is no guarantee against attack or harassment from your neighbor (you still have to sit next to someone ); on the other hand, it's not just women who deal with harassment on airplanes, It’s not just men who engage in harassment, either. I also find this plan a bit problematic as it seems a bit like saying women need to be "rescued" from predators, putting us in the role of "damsels in distress".


But, well...it's a start. Sitting in an aisle or window seat will at least reduce the chance of you getting trapped between two predators; more importantly, if you're in the aisle, you'll probably be able to stand up more easily if you need help Find the flight attendant. According to RAINN, while anyone can be harassed or assaulted, and anyone can perpetrate harassment or assault, women and non-binary or gender non-conforming people often do experience harassment and assault disproportionately.

As part of the bigger picture, it's heartening that our company recognizes this is an issue women face and is doing everything we can to help. This move by Air India is also significant. As Bloomberg points out, India's Ministry of External Affairs warned single women to be extra cautious when using public transportation. Sexual violence remains a big problem in India — as women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan told the Wall Street Journal in January, women in the country don’t often report sexual assault because they Worry that their attacks will be blamed on the victim. "If you create an atmosphere of suspicion, then they won't report it," Krishnan said. "Vestala Traveler" hopes to create an atmosphere not of suspicion but of belief.

According to CNN, the Vistara Women Traveler program is currently only available in India. For more information, please visit the Vistara website.