Air India's sexist policy grounds over 100 flight attendants

Sep 17, 2015 at 9:58 a.m. ET

Forget luggage limits Air India has taken the weight issue a step further, and right over the edge of sanity, by applying weight limits to its flight attendants. The airline has grounded 130 (mostly female) flight attendants for having an unsuitable BMI.

Six months ago Air India told 600 employees who had failed the company's BMI test – which requires female flights attendants to have a BMI between 18 and 22 and male flight attendants to have a BMI between 18 and 25 — to lose weight or face the consequences. According to the carrier 130 predominantly female attendants did not shed the necessary weight and have been grounded as a result.

Justifying its actions an Air India spokesperson told The Telegraph that the decision was based on "safety concerns."

"People who are fitter can respond quicker and more efficiently in case of any untoward situation," he said.

More: Not all sexists are jerks — they aren't all men either

Uh What? Hold on just one minute. I’m totally on board with ensuring that personnel are capable of executing their duties in an emergency… except weight has very little to do with it. Just because a person is slim does not mean that they are fit (or vice versa). Plus other factors such as psychological resilience, quick thinking, strength, knowledge, health, training, experience and commitment are far more pertinent when it comes to reacting in an emergency situation.

This decision seems to be purely aesthetic; a suspicion supported by what the airline's then personnel manager, Meenakshi Dua, told BBC News in 2004.

"When we review a candidate, we look at the skin, teeth and height,” she said. “There should be no scars, acne, or any major marks on the face. The candidate should have a pleasing personality, should be able to carry him or herself with confidence and be ready to serve others. After all, that is the job of an air hostess and a male steward.”

More: Airlines are forcing passengers to get weighed before they can fly

Pardon me, Air India, but if a flight attendant's job is to carry him or herself with confidence and serve others then weight isn't a barrier (and neither is a pimple or a crooked tooth btw). I'm sure the emergency personnel — which is actually what flight attendants are, let's give credit where credit's due — would not appreciate having their talents reduced and objectified.

It seems like this policy is nothing short of a ploy to force the airline's employees to meet archaic ideas of beauty. Considering that the majority of those affected are female it also makes this move an alarmingly sexist one. Women who choose to follow a career in the field should not have to concern themselves with their looks. As in any other profession, the only thing that should matter is their ability to perform a task.

More: 15 Times Mad Men's Don Draper was a sexist pig

"This move to impose a certain BMI, ignoring experience and other performance parameters, is immature, misogynistic and shockingly sexist," said aviation industry consultant, Mark Martin. "We seem to have lost the plot on what is needed from flight attendants."

If an airline wants to impose a useful test why not include an emergency simulator that assesses the reactions and capabilities of its employees instead of one that measures their BMI?

In the meantime my heart goes out to the flight attendants who have been grounded and I hope that they see some justice.