Air India’s announcement was issued late last week. The state-owned airline mass grounded about 130 of its flight attendants because of weight limits, due to “safety concerns and recent government regulations”. Critics reacted and named the decision “shallow”, “ridiculous” and “shockingly sexist”, even if weight limits for Indian flight attendants exist since the 1980s.
Back in 2006, according to BBC report, Air India grounded 9 female flight attendants who later got fired, in 2009, despite their lawsuit and appeal at the Indian Supreme Court.
“Being grossly overweight does have a bearing on reflexes and can impair agility required to perform the emergency functions,” the airline claimed at that time.
“All efforts to get them to reduce weight had failed,” Air India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava declared for the BBC.
“This is not a modeling job; we are not working a catwalk”, “weight is not an infectious disease”, Sheila Joshi, a 51-year-old flight attendant with 27 years on the job replied.
In 2013, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCO) established strict guidelines, including regular evaluations of their body mass index (BMI). After flight attendants resistance to this decision, Indian airlines reviewed the guidelines in 2014, giving crew members with inappropriate BMIs 6 months to control their weight or be grounded.
Aviation expert Mark Martin doesn’t agree with this policy, as declared for The Telegraph: “This move to impose a certain BMI, ignoring experience and other performance parameters, is immature, misogynistic and shockingly sexist. We seem to have lost the plot on what is needed from flight attendants.”
Air India, previously sued for sexism, states that it is “trying to up its aesthetic standards” due to competition levels: “Looks matter in this line of work and therefore we are giving it a lot of importance”, personnel manager Meenakshi Dua declared in 2004, in a BBC interview.
Back in 2009, however, Supreme Court Justice Tarun Chatterjee judge hinted Air India’s lawyers on how the company should be improving its performance: “You should focus on how they serve passengers, their good conduct instead of their weight. Weight is no criteria to determine competence.”