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Airline grounds 125 staff deemed too fat to fly

In what could be a weighty problem for Air India, the carrier is planning to ground 125 cabin crew for being overweight, according to reports.

The state-owned airline is currently required by the country's aviation authority to ensure that recruits stay within a normal weight range, based on body mass index (BMI) calculations, a tool used to measure body fat based on age, height and weight.

India's civil aviation authority introduced overarching weight regulation in May 2014, saying it was consistent with rules "which state that cabin crew must remain medically fit to discharge duties in inflight operations including aircraft emergency."


Air India flight attendants pose for a photo during the unveiling of Air India's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Indira Gandhi International airport terminal 3 in New Delhi.
RAVEENDRAN | AFP | Getty Images
Air India flight attendants pose for a photo during the unveiling of Air India's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Indira Gandhi International airport terminal 3 in New Delhi.

It says female cabin crew should stay within a BMI range of 18-22, and their male counterparts between 18-25. Overweight staff, the regulation said, "shall be examined and investigated," with crew given three months' notice to lose weight, or risk being deemed temporarily "unfit" for in-flight work and grounded for 3 months before being re-assessed.

Last year, Air India warned about 600 cabin crew last year that they needed to lose weight, and now, according to a BBC report citing an airline official, 125 of those staff have not been able to reach the target range.

The official told the BBC that it was concerned unfit staff wouldn't be able to handle emergency situations as efficiently.

An Air India spokesperson could not be reached by CNBC by press time.

Other airlines have introduced physical requirements for its recruits, with many being criticized for restrictive qualifications. Qatar Airways last year defended policies which didn't allow female staff to be being married or pregnant, according to Reuters. Others, like Czech Airlines provide BMI ranges and want applicants to be able to swim a minimum of 100 meters.

But Air India was enforcing similar rules long before the aviation authority issued its own guidelines. The airline faced controversy after having fired a number of stewardesses deemed overweight in 2008, but was subsequently forced to rehire three of those employees last April following a high court ruling, according to reports.

However, that's not the end of Air India's contentious employment policies. According to a June 2015 job ad, Air India's subsidiary and regional carrier Alliance Air said it was looking for "unmarried" cabin crew with a "with clear complexion without any noticeable blemish, no odd scars (or) birth mark or bad case of acne and no visible tattoo(s)."

They also said recruits should have "even and regular teeth," and should speak without a lisp.

You can read the BBC report here.