January 20, 2017 4:06:43 pm
This is a world that is anchored in superficiality. Of course, physical appearance is the cornerstone of superficiality and certain industries like the carnivalesque worlds of fashion and cinema thrive on it. And while the world of flying is not directly associated with the worlds of cinema and fashion, strangely enough in modern-era, airline cabin crew are expected to align itself to the universal expectations physical ‘appeal’. Seldom would you find an airline hostess or a steward’s waist bulging out of the seams of their well-stitched uniforms. Clearly, being overweight is an absolute sacrilege.
But why is it? India’s national carrier, Air India is in fact notorious for throwing out its cabin crew for being overweight. Recently, the airlines transferred 57 of its “overweight” cabin crew members to ground duty because of weight concerns. Back in 2014, it left 600 employees in a lurch when they were deemed overweight, and then again in 2015, it grounded 125 crew members for tipping the weighing scale. But this raises a disconcerting point: It doesn’t matter if the hostesses or the stewards are well-mannered, well put-together and ridiculously impeccable at their jobs. What seems to be the airlines’ primary concern is whether their employees fit a size 2 or a size 14.
One could argue that the airline expects its crew to be agile and physically fit so that it can handle emergency situations when the flight is airborne – which is great. But being overweight does not necessarily imply that the individual can’t tackle challenging circumstances. In fact, in 2015, the Delhi High Court ordered Air India to reinstate three of its crew members that the airlines has thrown out. Justice Rajiv Shakdher argued, “Does excess weight…necessarily, in every situation, impede optimal performance? I believe the answer to this poser, would have to be in the negative.”
To be fair, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2014 laid down the guidelines for hiring flight attendants regarding the weight, vision and hearing of the flight attendants. While the female cabin crew member should have a BMI of 18-22, a male member should have a BMI of 18-25. Those who didn’t fall into that BMI bracket would be considered overweight. A crew member can continue however, to retain its flying duty for up to three months, with the assurance of losing weight. Only if the cabin crew member is unable to reduce weight within that time period, will the employee be declared “temporarily unfit” from performing cabin duties.
However, Air India has had a tussle with overweight crew members since 2006, way before the DGCA introduced its guidelines. Back then, the airlines had grounded 11 employees who’d apparently put on too much weight. Besides this, Air India has a track record of having a heightened concern for physical appearances. In 2004, it dragged itself into a controversy when reports surfaced regarding the airlines’ strict policy of not hiring anyone who had acne or crooked teeth. The airlines’ then Personal Manager Meenakshi Dua had gone on record with the BBC to say, “There should be no scars, acne or any major marks on the face…looks matter in this line of work, and therefore we are giving it a lot of importance.”
Economically however, Air India’s profit-making graph has been showing a downward spiral. Could the reason for transferring its overweight crew members to ground duty be related to cutting costs? In 2013, GoAir had defended itself for hiring only “slim” women for its cabin crew, arguing that lighter crew members helped the airlines save fuel, and therefore money. The Times of India had reported that GoAir consciously hired more women because they were 15-20 kilos lighter than men, and according to GoAir, each kilo translated to Rs. 3 every flying hour. Which meant, the heavier the individual on flight, the more fuel will be used to transport her/him.
To be honest though, apart from making profits, Air India has far greater matters to worry about. It is notorious for its delayed flights (http://bit.ly/2jFKriF); for its inability in understanding the needs of disabled passengers (http://bit.ly/2iRifoD); and for not having a 24-hour functioning customer support system in place (http://bit.ly/2iRifoD).
But the linchpin of this conversation is this: fashion models and film icons have no business in interacting with other individuals. Their job is to look great and put on a great show. The job of a flight attendant however, is to ensure that the passengers are well looked after and provided a comfortable service. Looking good is only an extension of their profession — it’s not a necessity. And that’s something to think about.
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