September 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Pilot’s Suit Attacks Airborne Porn Airline Allegedly Failed To Keep Cockpits Free Of Nude Pictures

Jeffrey Gold Associated Press
 

For years, airline pilots have been leaving little surprises in the cockpit for the next crew: dirty pictures slipped into flight manuals, hidden behind equipment panels and stuffed into seatbacks.

The practice was usually good for laughs back when pilots were an all-male fraternity and flight attendants were known as stewardesses.

Nowadays, though, the practice is at the center of a lawsuit by a woman pilot who is suing Continental Airlines for sexual harassment.

“It’s like hanging up a ‘men’s only’ sign on the occupation,” said Francine Moccio, director of Cornell University’s Institute for Women and Work. “The playing field has changed. What was a big, funny joke 20 years ago is now illegal.”

Capt. Tammy S. Blakey, who is seeking unspecified damages, accuses Continental of failing to keep cockpits free of pornographic pictures glued to the bottom of drawers, behind panels marked with an X, and in flight manuals.

She testified at the trial, which began Sept. 10 in federal court in Newark, that her complaints prompted the company to retaliate by questioning her attendance record, sending her to the company psychiatrist and forcing her to take extra qualifying tests.

She also said male pilots got back at her by scrawling her name on graphic photos.

Houston-based Continental says Blakey’s complaints began only after her schedule changed in 1991 and after the company raised concerns about poor attendance. The airline says it responded promptly and alerted pilots that offensive material was banned from cockpits.

Moccio, who is not involved in the Blakey case, said the scenario painted by Blakey is similar to those in other male-dominated fields such as construction, the military, and police and fire departments.

“What’s happening is that the customs and traditions of the men in that occupation are tough to resist change,” Moccio said. “They say, ‘Why should we change for just a handful?”’

Women accounted for just 2.6 percent, or 3,346, of the nation’s 127,486 airline pilots in 1996, more than double their number in 1987, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Blakey, 38, of Arlington, Wash., was hired in 1984. In 1990 she became the first woman at Continental to attain the rank of captain of an Airbus A300, a jet that carries up to 272 passengers, she testified.

Blakey has been on unpaid leave since mid-1993. She says she wanted to come back in 1994 after her daughter was born. But the company says she made no effort to return.

Male pilots do not dispute that pornography was standard fare in the industry, but claim it was done discreetly and is now disappearing.

A senior pilot at Newark-based Kiwi International Air Lines, speaking on condition of anonymity, recalled that when he worked at the now-failed Eastern Airlines, women pilots would swap the girlie pictures with beefcake shots of men.

The president of Women in Aviation International, a pilots group based in Alexandria, Ohio, said the atmosphere is getting better.

“Overall, the industry attitude is very positive,” Peggy Baty said. “The incident at Continental is certainly an isolated case from my understanding and people I talk to.”

That sentiment is not shared by Amanda Butler, a former flight attendant for Continental Express, who is suing that airline and parent Continental, charging they failed to respond adequately to her sexual harassment complaint.

Butler, 26, of Houston, is also suing a pilot, Rainer E. Krebs, accusing him of superimposing a photograph of her face on pictures of nude and bikini-clad women in 1995, then showing the computer images to pilots in the cockpit.

The defendants in that suit, which could come to trial in federal court in Houston next year, admit Krebs superimposed Butler’s face onto the body of a woman in a swimsuit, but deny her other allegations.

Butler flew for Continental Express in 1995 and 1996, when she quit. She said racy pictures were still available to pilots.

“I had seen it in the cockpit,” Butler said Friday. “What happened to me was a little bit different, in that I actually became the pornography.”


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