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Indian airline comes under fire after terminating 130 flight attendants deemed "too fat to fly"

Flight attendants

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(NaturalNews) Air India has taken the growing obesity epidemic to new heights with a controversial initiative aimed at encouraging its flight attendants to shed the extra pounds or be reassigned.

Reports indicate that as many as 600 flight attendants working for the international airline face removal from cabin crews for being too fat. Last year, they were told they would have to meet the body mass index (BMI) guidelines set forth by the airline, or else be given new positions on the ground.

The Telegraph says Air India considers a "normal" BMI for female flight attendants to be between 18 and 22, with "overweight" being anything between 22 and 27. "Obesity" in BMI terms is anything over 27.

For male flight attendants, the ranges are 18 to 25 for "normal," 25 to 30 for "overweight" and over 30 for "obese."

The guidelines are generally in line with Great Britain's National Health Service (NHS) numbers for being normal, overweight and obese, which advocates of the Air India policy say serve as justification for its use.

Being fat costs airlines more money

When the 600 flight attendants deemed overweight or obese were warned last year about the new policy, they were given the chance to lose weight and keep their jobs. Most of them succeeded, but a few failed.

"About 130 of them failed the reassessment," told an Air India official to The Telegraph in Calcutta. "We are now declaring them permanently unfit for their job as flight attendants."

The policy isn't technically new, as Air India has had to deal with overweight stewardesses in the past. Back in 2009, 10 flight attendants had to be grounded after failing to shed the pounds required to meet BMI requirements.

Not only are fit, healthy flight attendants able to move faster and respond to situations on airplanes more quickly, but they also help keep flight costs down by minimizing cargo loads. For this reason alone, Air India says it's justified in keeping only slim stewardesses in the skies.

"People who are fitter can respond quicker and more efficiently in case of any untoward situation," the Air India official added.

Flight attendants need to be pleasant and slim to meet the needs of passengers

There's also the issue of safety, as flight attendants need to be able to function at their best in an emergency situation. Exceptionally large individuals might have trouble escorting passengers out of the plane during an emergency landing, for instance, or operating equipment necessary to save lives.

"Being grossly overweight does have a bearing on reflexes and can impair agility required to perform the emergency function," says the airline.

Nobody seems to have an issue with the policy — which Air India has every right to enforce — except for its overweight employees. Some of them have tried to sue the airline for discrimination, but they've thus far failed.

That's because Air India has a job to do and passengers to protect as it transfers folks safely from one location to another. And this job can't be accomplished if certain flight attendants are weighing down the plane and putting passengers (and themselves) at risk.

Other airlines, including Indian rival GoAir, has a similar policy of hiring only slim flight attendants, hence its preference for females (which tend to weigh less than males). Thai Airways also has its own weight limits in place, not only for safety purposes but for desirability as well.

"Looks matter in this line of work, and therefore we are giving it a lot of importance" stated Air India personnel manager Meenakshi Dua to BBC News back in 2004.

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