There has been a lot of flight attendant drama in the news this week, some of it more prominent than others. Last Saturday, Turkish Airlines announced that 28 flight attendants, both men and women, had been grounded and suspended on unpaid leave until they lose weight.
This has been mostly eclipsed by the ongoing saga of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out a passenger on the intercom and escaped onto the tarmac via the emergency slide, is available across the internet and does not need to be rehashed here. But the Turkish Airlines flight attendants have larger grievances than a rude passenger. If they neglect to lose the weight, they will find themselves without jobs.
“Weight and height are important factors at all airlines,” the airline said in a statement published by Turkish newspaper Haber Turk daily. “These criteria are important both in terms of appearance and the ability to move about.”
So, certainly it’s important for flight attendants to be able to move around the aisles and perform their duties. But the U.S. solved this problem in the early ’90s by implementing a “performance test” that enabled flight attendants to prove that they could do their jobs without being subjected to weekly weigh-ins. Because there has been a not insignificant history of airlines requiring certain standards of beauty from their flight attendants – and firing them when they don’t comply.
Turkish Airlines are being more subtle about this than others have been in the past; in early 2009, Air India fired ten flight attendants for being overweight, and stated very openly that a large part of the decision had to do with their physical appearance, rather than their ability to do their job. They got a lot of flak for that, however, and it seems that airlines have learned to emphasize competence, rather than attractiveness, when justifying demands like this. That does not, however, make the demands any more reasonable or acceptable.
I hope that we’ve come further than the early days of commercial airlines, when the flight attendants were part of the glamour of flying – they needed to be svelte and beautiful and, most importantly, available (for years, flight attendants were fired as soon as they got married). For the airlines, employees were commodities, rather than people performing tasks in a specific service industry. It’s absurd to think, today, that we need anything more than people who can do their jobs – let’s hope that Turkish Airlines get clued in.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.