I generally avoid stories about weight because it is a sensitive topic that isn’t worth getting people worked up over (unlike the TSA…), but I do want to update you on an ongoing legal battle in India which has finally concluded.
44-year-old Nipa Dhar was dismissed from her job as in 2001 as an Air India (then called Indian Airways) flight attendant for being too fat. She wasn’t given a warning or re-assigned to a desk job, she was just canned.
Labor laws aren’t nearly as protective in India and while the airlines of India have many "lifetime" FAs, the country still straddles the line between the United States (look no further than many of UA’s Seattle based flight attendants) and Singapore (where if you’re not trim and beautiful, you’re fired).
Today, the Calcutta High Court ordered the airline to reinstate the FA and give her pay back dating back to 2001.
Before we declare this court decision a victory for the obese, it is important to note that Dhar’s lawyer, Madhumita Roy, argued that Dhar had become overweight after taking medicines prescribed by an airline doctor for altitude phobia. Hardly a valiant stand against the discrimination of the overweight…
So here’s my question to you: let’s say the airline had not prescribed any medication that made her fat. Should airlines have the right to fire workers for their looks and weight?
I know this is often a loaded question and has become a trite one over the years, but I can certainly appreciate the argument that flight attendants are not "primarily here for your safety" but rather are actors and actresses–engaging in public relations for their airline on a daily basis. Looks do matter in the public relations business. People love Asian carriers not just for their perceived superior overall product but also because they like the young and energetic FAs.
On the other side, we have many hard working employees who have dedicated their lives to their FA careers and have no other skill sets that could employ. Where would they go and what would they do if they were canned for a reason so arbitrary and capricious as not being pretty or trim enough? Plus, some of my best FAs over the years have been (to be blunt) the fat ones, the old ones, and the ugly ones.
I honestly don’t know where I’d come down on this issue if push comes to shove, but I’d sure love to hear some more arguments on both sides.
For more commentary, check out this week’s episode of The Crew Lounge.