Administrators at state-owned Air India have soured on some of the ‘eye candy in the sky.’ In the latest part of a war that has raged for over a decade, officials grounded nearly 130 flight attendants for being overweight. While a few men were lumped into those stripped of their wings, the vast majority are women. This has led to international clamor against the government for subjecting these stewards and stewardesses to a whole new level of body shamming.
The whole story began way back in the 1980s, when Air India first distributed weight and height charts to which all flight attendants were expected to adhere. Over the years, these charts were replaced by more scientific methods of measuring the weight of airline employees, in particular Body Mass Index (BMI). However, it seems that Air India is holding its flight attendants to a higher standard than is required by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Those standards say a healthy BMI for an adult female is between 18.5 and 24.9, while Air India maintains that its attendants need to be between 18 and 22.
Having run into “exceptionally overweight” flight attendants in the early part of the twenty-first century, the company instituted a new policy which alerted employees when their BMI was too high. From that point forward, they had six months to lose the required amount of weight to bring their ratings in line with the standards, otherwise they would be let go. Having successfully fired flight attendants for the same reason in 2006, and having survived an appeal before India’s Supreme Court in that case, Air India is confident that grounding the current batch of 130 stewards and stewardesses is legal. In total, during 2014, around 600 flight attendants had been put on notice for being too heavy.
Speculation rages whether or not this is simply a cost-cutting effort by the airline, which required a sizable government loan in recent years to stay afloat. Air India has explored a number of other options to shrink its current cabin crew total of 3,500 attendants. Included within those options was removing all male flight stewards. The fact that, on average, men weigh more than women was deemed to be costing the company over half a million dollars each year in fuel. While that’s a large total, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the costs incurred by other airlines, such as lawsuits from passengers robbed by their flight staff.
While it remains unclear what is next for the 130 displaced attendants, Air India is digging in for the long haul. Company spokesmen have repeatedly stressed that lighter flight attendants are more capable of handling emergencies on the plane and can assistant passenger quicker than a fat stewardess. At least Kim Jung-un was upfront about wanting thin flight attendants when he designed the uniforms for the women serving on Air Koryo. Although, I guess when you’re a dictator you don’t need to worry about irate workers taking you to court. Even if Air India wins in the legal court, they’ve already lost in the court of public opinion.