Pan Am Stewardesses

Treating Employees Like Excess Baggage

I'm Jo, Fly Me.A very retro story is at the top of the news — but it’s not a good one. Air India has decided that flight attendants with excess weight are excess baggage and they have declared 130 of them “permanently unfit for their jobs.”

This would not have been shocking five decades ago when airline advertising was sexually suggestive and attendants were required to be pencil-thin. But today, airline attendants look more or less like real people.

Air India identified 600 attendants with BMI of 25 or greater and instructed them to go on a diet and exercise routine to lose all of their excess weight. When 130 of them did not reach a BMI below 25, they grounded them. The rationale, said Air India, was that “People who are fitter can respond quicker and more efficiently in case of any untoward situation.”

Of course, BMI is not a measure of fitness. Air India seems untroubled by such details.

Aviation industry expert Mark Martin was blunt in his assessment:

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.

Obesity Action Coalition Vice President James Zervios commented:

The blatant employment discrimination is troubling enough. But even more troubling are the broader implications of hostility toward people with bodies that do not fit an arbitrary standard. Some airlines are already showing considerable disregard for the dignity and comfort of larger passengers.

Size and weight is a poor excuse for dismissing people who perform well in their jobs. And if they don’t, that’s reason enough. Respect is missing from this surprising action by Air India.

Click here to read more from the Washington Post.

Pan Am Stewardesses, photograph © cheela / flickr

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September 16, 2015