Air India's new pre-flight BMI weight check rule irks crew members: What the row is all about

In a company-wide communique on 20 January, the executive director informed the All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) that each cabin crew member would now be subjected to BMI and weight checks on a quarterly basis

FP Staff January 25, 2022 14:43:35 IST
Air India's new pre-flight BMI weight check rule irks crew members: What the row is all about

Image used for representational purposes only. PTI

Air India is gearing up for its Tata takeover and as a part of this makeover, the national carrier has issued new guidelines as per which, they will now check the body mass index (BMI) of the crew at the airports just before their flights.

The new rule has irked the crew members and caused a furor.

Please read: Air India likely to be handed over to Tata Group on 27 January, says senior official

We take a look at what’s happened and how the issue has snowballed into a controversy.

Air India’s new rules

Air Indias new preflight BMI weight check rule irks crew members What the row is all about

The Air India order was issued on 20 January, much to the ire of the unions. AFP

On 20 January, Vasudha Chandana, Executive Director — In-flight Services, Air India, sent an order, which read: "Grooming associates have been assigned the task of recording observations on the BMI management/grooming/uniform turnout of cabin crew when they report for a flight or standby duty at CCMCO (Cabin Crew Movement Control Office)."

The order further added that these observations must be compiled and sent to her office.

Additionally, it would be the responsibility of the cabin supervisor of the flight to ensure that her/his set of the crew are well turned out and follow complete uniform regulations.

The order further said: "Cabin crew who are well-dressed and well-groomed according to uniform standards and regulations, present a positive and professional image of the airline."

One must note that members of Air India's cabin crew union have been undergoing BMI and weight checks from 2008 and 1998, respectively, as per the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). But these checks are conducted only by medical professionals or doctors.

Furore erupts

The order hasn't gone down well with the national carrier's unions.

The Air India Employees' Union (AIEU) and All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) wrote a letter to Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Vikram Dev Dutt opposing the order on the grounds that it is dehumanising and in violation of rules prescribed by aviation regulator DGCA.

The unions in their letter wrote that such BMI checks at airports by non-medical “grooming associates” violates not only DGCA rules but also "settled service conditions and court orders".

"We must stipulate that we are not objecting to BMI checks, which crew has undergone for more than 15 years now, however, the same must be conducted by medical doctors, in the privacy of the Air India clinic, as has been the case until now.

"This process of weighing scale checks at airports dehumanises and denigrates Air India's cabin crew, apart from violating working conditions," they stated.

The All India Cabin Crew Association added, "The time for reporting (for flights) is meant for documentation and flight safety revision briefing and review. This stressful BMI check during a reporting is bound to disturb crew mental preparation, giving rise to flight safety issues."

The AICCA has also threatened to seek legal recourse if the said requirement on BMI/weight checks by grooming associates is not withdrawn.

Cabin crews’ weighty issues

It is not the first time that Air India’s weight policy has come under scrutiny. In 2015, it grounded 125 staff saying their weight had rendered them unfit to fly.

In 2009, nine Air India cabin crew members were let go for being "grossly overweight" and in 2004 prospective air hostesses were told they wouldn't be considered if they had facial marks like acne.

In 2017, the national carrier had once again made headlines when they had temporarily taken off 57 crew members from flying and put them on ground duty.

And it’s not just Air India.

Air Indias new preflight BMI weight check rule irks crew members What the row is all about

Former Emirates cabin crew members claim their weight was regularly checked by the company and they could lose their jobs if they were ‘too heavy'. AFP

In 2019, Pakistan's national carrier told overweight staff they needed to lose weight or face being grounded and sent to a "grooming cell".

In 2020, a Malaysia Airlines crew member lost her unfair dismissal case against the company after she was fired for being 700 grams "overweight".

A former Emirates employee was also reported as saying the airline used “weight police” to regularly monitor the size and appearance of the cabin crew.

These incidents have raised the question on why cabin crew members are asked to maintain a certain weight and whether it is sexist and superficial.

Criticism of weight rules

Currently, the DGCA states that a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18-25 is normal for a male cabin crew, while for a female it is 18-22. A BMI of 25-29.9 for the male crew is considered overweight and 30 and above is obese, while for females BMI of 22-27 is overweight and 27 and above obese.

The BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.

Please read: Listen up airlines: DGCA doesn't give a damn if your cabin crew is fat

Critics have often argued that putting restrictions on cabin crew based on their weight is an attempt to set beauty standards.

"This move to impose a certain BMI, ignoring experience and other performance parameters, is immature, misogynistic and shockingly sexist," Mark Martin, an aviation industry consultant, had told the Calcutta Telegraph in 2015.

However, aviation expert Kapil Kaul was quoted as telling BBC that an overweight crew is a signal the airline is not fit. "You need a smart friendly agile crew that can complement the image of the airline," he said.

We ask you, dear readers, what do you think? Is it fair or should cabin crew be subjected to such checks.

With inputs from agencies

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