‘Fat’ Flight Attendants Fight to Fly

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Flight attendants in India are fighting to fly.

Air India – that country’s national airline – recently sacked ten female flight attendants for putting on a few extra pounds – and now, they’re fighting back in court.

Thirteen former employees originally filed a discrimination lawsuit in Delhi’s High Court against Air India last year. At the time, the airline had grounded them for being overweight, but had not yet dismissed them – instead, the flight attendants were ordered to lose weight or lose their jobs.

The airline defended its decision by asserting that air hostesses – as they’re still called in India – must be physically fit to ensure passenger safety – and claimed the former employees knew about the weight limit before they were hired. The Court agreed and also noted that the airline had the right to hire only “fit” attendants, given the state-run carrier’s intense competition with its many privately-owned competitors.

But, attorneys for the dismissed flight attendants argue that the airline didn’t fire their clients for being medically unfit — just for being over the weight limit. They contend that Air India’s real objective is to get rid of older, higher-paid flight attendants  in favor of younger ones who will do the job for less money.

In the past, U.S. air carriers had the legal right to fire flight attendants on the basis of excess weight, as well, but a landmark weight-discrimination lawsuit in 1982, along with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, has since made such discrimination illegal. The attorney for the Air India flight attendants plans to take the case to the country’s Supreme Court – to get these flight attendants back in the air.

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