The golden age of flying may be long in the past, but at least we’ve also seen the end of days when flight attendants are judged on their bodies, right? Well, not exactly.
According to the Telegraph, this week Air India dismissed 130 cabin crew duty for having body mass index (BMI) levels beyond “normal.” For Air India, a “normal” BMI for a female flight attendant is between 18 and 22, and 18 to 25 for a man, which is more or less the same assessment as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This move did not come out of the blue. About six months ago, the directorate-general of civil aviation asked domestic airlines in May 2014 to classify flight attendants into three categories: normal, overweight, and obese. Shortly after, 600 flight attendants were warned six months ago to lose weight or lose their jobs in the cabin. This also isn’t the first time Air India has done this, having removed 10 flight attendants in 2009 for the same issue.
The fact that the majority of flight attendants are women is not lost on anyone, and charges of sexism are flying, as well as accusations that airline is setting a rigid aesthetic standard. Mark Martin, an aviation industry consultant, put it bluntly to the Telegraph India:
“This move to impose a certain BMI, ignoring experience and other performance parameters, is immature, misogynistic and shockingly sexist.”
Air India, however, says it’s an issue of safety, saying:
“People who are fitter can respond quicker and more efficiently in case of any untoward situation.”
While that might be true in some situations, having a high BMI does not always mean you are overweight. Muscle is heavier than fat, so very fit people could actually score high.
Plus, while I can’t speak for everyone, I tend to judge flight attendants more on efficiency, responsiveness, energy, stress tolerance, compassion, understanding, communication, sensibility, and professionalism, to name a few.
Air India is hardly the only airline to impose physical restrictions on flight attendants. .Until recently, Qatar Airways could fire flight attendants who get pregnant or married (now they can take temporary ground jobs). Airlines like United also have minimum and maximum height requirements (5 feet 2 inches to 6 feet). SkyWest requires all tattoos to be hidden (“visible tattoo locations include, but are not limited to, hands, arms, neck, face, legs and feet”). China Southern Airlines perhaps has the most bizarre rule — that flight attendants’ legs cannot be “X or O shaped,” and the airline holds beauty pageants to find male and female crew members.
Road Warrior Voices has reached out to Air India and will update when we get a response.