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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 16:10 GMT
No acne allowed for air hostesses
By Monica Chadha
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Future air hostesses in India
Only one in 80 applicants will be successful

International carrier Air India has taken over a sports stadium in the Indian capital Delhi for the recruitment of 400 new air hostesses and male stewards.

New guidelines place a heavy emphasis on personal appearance.

So candidates with acne or whose teeth are deemed not good enough are among the many being weeded out.

Some 32,000 people applied for the jobs - the first time in 10 years that Air India has recruited on such a large scale.

At least 1,200 candidates are being screened everyday at the Delhi sports stadium.

Young men and women, dressed in their finest suits and saris, stand patiently in line outside the gate waiting for their name to be called out.

The make-up is perfect and every gelled hair is in place.

Air India Personnel Manager Meenakshi Dua
There should be no scars, acne, or any major marks on the face... looks matter in this line of work, and therefore we are giving it a lot of importance.
Air India Personnel Manager Meenakshi Dua

The selection procedure seems to be in keeping with the 'everything-must-change' theme of Air India as it looks to create a more modern image.

The candidates must first appear for a personality test that involves standing in front of a camera and briefly introducing themselves for a minute each.

Once they have passed this round, they must complete a written test before a final interview.

Needless to say not many surmount all three obstacles and get hired by the airline.

Personnel Manager Meenakshi Dua says the changes have been made in keeping with the requirements of the job, enabling Air India to weed out candidates who do not fit the bill.

"Looks matter in this line of work," she says, "and therefore we are giving it a lot of importance.

"When we review a candidate, we look at the skin, teeth and height.

"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."

Handsome salary

As for the candidates, most of them are under 24-years-old and come from lower and middle income groups.

Queue of people hoping to join Air India
Candidates wear their finest suits and saris

They seem to be motivated by a chance to meet different people and travel across the world without spending a penny.

The handsome salary is also a big incentive among potential recruits.

New recruits stand to earn 36,000 rupees ($800) as their basic pay, but that increases with the number of flying hours.

Twenty-one year old Arusha Talwar said this is the only way she can see new places without spending her own money.

On the other hand, 22-year old management student Tushar Saroya has always been enamoured by the aviation industry.

"Some of my aunts work with various airlines and I have always envied the life they lead," he said, "of course they work very hard but they also seem to enjoy themselves, and experience the finer things in life.

"I have always wanted to live like them."

All this is an about turn from 10 years ago, when the job of a cabin crew member in India was looked down upon.

Becoming a doctor, engineer, architect or joining the civil service were the preferred career choices then.

Now, it has become a glamorous and popular career option for most young people.

Twenty-two-year old Sarika is one such girl.

"I have wanted to become an air hostess ever since I was a child but never told my parents about it," she said, "because they never quite encouraged me to look at this profession.

"However, when Air India advertised these cabin crew jobs, they actually asked me to apply for them! I could not have been happier."

The fact that Air India has decided to change its image so drastically could be related to the fact that the airline that has lost money for some time now.

But critics say that the airline also needs to change the working practises of its ground crew and its in-flight service before passengers can sit back, sip their orange juice confident in the expectation that their flight will arrive on time.

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