Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Air India sacks 'fat' hostesses

Air India
The airline says overweight crew are a safety hazard

India's state-owned airline Air India has terminated the services of nine hostesses for being "overweight", a spokesman says.

The air hostesses were taken off flying duty two to three years ago and put on ground duty.

They say they have now been told by the airline that it no longer has positions for them in ground jobs.

A lawyer for the air hostesses told the BBC that they would challenge the terminations in the Supreme Court.

Last June, the Delhi high court ruled that Air India had the right to prevent overweight air hostesses from flying.

The hostesses appealed against that order in the Supreme Court and the case is still pending there.

'Exceptionally overweight'

A spokesman for Air India told the BBC that the hostesses were sacked after they were declared "medically unfit" to fly.

"They haven't been flying for two to three years for being exceptionally overweight," spokesman Jitendra Bhargava said.

We challenged last year's court ruling in the Supreme Court. The case is pending. How can the airline do this?
Arvind Sharma, hostesses' lawyer

He said that the women were between 11kg and 32kg overweight and that "all efforts to get them to reduce weight had failed".

Air India said safety was a "prime function" and that "being grossly overweight does have a bearing on reflexes and can impair agility required to perform the emergency functions".

A hostess with Air India, Sheela Joshi, who is not one of the nine dismissed, said those colleagues had received termination letters in the past three to four days.

"They were told there are no vacancies in ground jobs and since you are unable to lose weight, you have been terminated from service," Mrs Joshi told the BBC.

Arvind Sharma, a lawyer for the air hostesses, said he would try to get the dismissals revoked as part of the ongoing appeal in the Supreme Court.

"We challenged last year's court ruling in the Supreme Court. The case is pending. How can the airline do this? This is contempt of court," Mr Sharma said.

He said the airline did not give the air hostesses any warning or set them any deadline for losing weight.

Mr Bhargava said the Delhi high court had not given any stay order and that the management had followed the due process of law.

In June last year, the high court agreed with the airline's view that overweight crew presented a safety and health hazard.

It also said that, in the highly competitive airline industry, an air hostess's physical condition and appearance played an important role in her overall personality.

Air India, whose air hostesses wear traditional Indian saris, is facing a stiff challenge from a number of private airlines with younger flight crew typically dressed in skirts or Western suits.

A few years ago, during a recruitment drive for new crew, the airline said that it would not consider applicants with acne or bad teeth.

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