Flight attendant weight restriction causes uproar

Thai Airways International imposed body mass index and waistline restrictions on its 6,000 flight attendants last June. According to the Bangkok Post, all flight attendants, both male and female, were given six months to comply with the weight restriction. For female attendants, a BMI of 25 and a waistline maximum of 32 inches was implemented. The male attendants had restrictions of 27.5 BMI and a 35 inch waistline. To compute BMI, check out this handy calculator.

Those that did not meet the standards are now limited to domestic flights and same day service. They will be further relegated to ground crew if they fail to comply within a year. 41 flight attendants, 28 of them male, did not meet the guidelines and have filed a complaint with the Thailand Labour Protection and Welfare Department for the regulation which “violated their human rights, hurt their feelings, and decreased their incomes.” Although less than 1% of the Thai Airways flight attendant work force was affected, the Draconian measure has stirred up a debate regarding weight restrictions for flight attendants.

The vice president of products and customer services for Thai Airways, Teerapol Chotechanapibal, had this to say about the restrictions:

“…the regulation was aimed at improving the personality of flight attendants, who were an essential part of boosting competitiveness with other airlines, while their health had an impact on services and the safety of passengers. Flight attendants had to be agile and able to evacuate passengers from a plane within 90 seconds in the event of an accident. He said airlines worldwide had implemented similar standards. Stewardesses who are 160cm (5’3″) tall must not weigh above 66kg (145 lbs) while stewards who are 165cm (5’5″) tall must not weigh over 74.8kg (165 lbs).”

Asian air lines are notorious for hiring tall and rail thin flight attendants. A couple years ago, Air India even fired ten employees for being fat. I recall walking through Incheon airport in South Korea and passing a group of Korean Air stewardesses striding along the auto-walk like a gaggle of graceful storks. While I do not mind the inherent rule that flight attendants should be fit enough to assist with potential emergency situations, seeing an explicit weight restriction (an unnecessarily strict one at that) makes the whole enterprise feel cold, calculating, and inhuman. What do you think?


flickr image via kalleboo