Air India: Too Fat To Fly – Airline Grounds 130 Flight Attendants

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Air India is in the news again for their hiring policies among flight attendants. The Indian flag carrier is asking Flight Attendants to step up to the scale.

Air India 747

The airline just grounded 130 of their flight attendants for being overweight, stating safety concerns and government regulations.

This is not the first time Air India has been in the new for such measures as in the last two years there were a number of court cases in India handling this issue.

Yesterday the Washington Post (access here) among other news outlets reported on the current situation that has been developing over at Air India.

Air India is grounding about 130 of its flight attendants — mostly women — because they are overweight, the company announced late last week.vThe state-owned airline said the decision was based on safety concerns and recent government regulations, but critics said it was “ridiculous” and “shockingly sexist.”

The mass grounding is just the latest in a 10-year-long tug-of-war between the airline and its larger flight attendants. Weight limits for Indian flight attendants date back to the 1980s, when Air India began circulating height and weight charts, according to a 2014 opinion by Delhi High Court Judge Rajiv Shakdher. …

“Being grossly overweight does have a bearing on reflexes and can impair agility required to perform the emergency functions,” the airline claimed. The hostesses sued, but a Delhi court backed up the carrier in 2008. The women appealed, only for the airline to fire them in 2009 as the country’s Supreme Court was still considering the case.

Air India announced a while back that they are trying to reinvent themselves which includes new aircraft, uniform changes and as they put it ‘trying to up its aesthetic standards’ which seemingly includes policing the attire and fitness of their flight attendants.However, for what it’s worth this case is not isolated and solely limited to Air India.

In 2013, rival Indian airline GoAir said it was hiring mostly women because they weighed less than men, according to CNN. Thai Airways has also imposed weight limits on its flight attendants, grounding several dozen — most of them men — for their bulging waistlines back in 2011, also according to CNN.

Some airlines are indeed known for a certain type of staff. Thai Airways, Sri Lankan, Air India… all these state owned (or formerly state owned) carriers from developing countries where the hiring of staff is usually conducted by connections rather than due process are famous for having plenty of (mostly senior) staff that let themselves go over the years. Especially when flying Sri Lankan you notice that their sari uniforms are very unforgiving as soon as someone has a few pounds too many.

Conclusion

I doubt that airlines would get away with this in most western countries. Imposing a BMI limitation on staff would be considered discrimination in many jurisdictions.

However I can see the point for these airlines as well. Unfortunately it’s a child of their own making because these carriers lived in an environment of staff entitlement for decades and now they have to fight the unmistakably fact that a good percentage of their staff became extremely overweight. Being a Flight Attendant has always been a job where a certain attractiveness factor was part of it. This feature got somewhat lost in the last two decades and it will be hard for the airlines to return to glamorous times.

But let’s face it, in times where passengers wear sweat suits and live like pigs on the plane it’s hardly justified to impose model criteria on the crew. Flying these days, more often than not, is a greyhound with wings.

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