Skift Take

Unless there is something else going on, it sounds like the India court is teaching Air India a well-deserved lesson in corporate responsibility and employee rights.

A court in New Delhi ordered Air India Ltd. to reinstate three former air hostesses it had fired for being overweight, saying the state-run carrier had not “applied its mind” in terminating their services.

“Accumulated medical wisdom would have us believe that weight brings with it several health related problems,” Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the Delhi High Court wrote in his March 31 order. “Does excess weight then, necessarily, in every situation, impede optimal performance? I believe the answer to this poser, would have to be in the negative.”

The order restores the services of the employees with full back wages from Air India, the carrier that’s trying to pare employee-to-aircraft ratio among steps to turn profitable. The carrier, which has not made a profit since 2006, is getting a bailout from the government totaling 300 billion rupees ($5 billion) through 2020 to operate in a market dominated by closely held IndiGo.

Air India in 2008 terminated the services of Sangita Garg, Punita Bakshi and Sona Chawla, all employed as ground service staff at the time, saying they failed to maintain weight within a prescribed limit, according to Delhi High Court documents.

“It is high time we understood that the flight attendant is not supposed to be a pretty face you see in a plane,” said Mark D. Martin, chief executive officer of Dubai-based Martin Consulting LLC, which advises airlines on strategy. “She is there for safety, service and to evacuate you whenever necessary.”

Air India spokesman G.P. Rao didn’t immediately respond to three calls to his mobile phone.

Pleasing Appearance

Airlines typically look for ways to cut operating costs. Lower weight on an aircraft helps them save fuel costs, which can account for about 30 percent to 40 percent of the expenses.

The three air hostesses were moved to ground roles as they were overweight to fly, according to the court documents.

Lawyers for Air India argued that “pleasing appearance, manners and physical fitness was required” in the travel industry and all crew members were expected to remain smart, alert and energetic, according to the documents.

The airline “has not applied its mind to germane factors before taking a decision to terminate the petitioners’ services,” the judge wrote. “The reasons given had no link with the conclusion reached, which was, to dispense with the services of the petitioners.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Anurag Kotoky in New Delhi at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at Suresh Seshadri, Subramaniam Sharma

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Tags: air india, employees, flight attendants

Photo credit: Air India was ordered to rehire three "air hostesses" fired for being overweight. In this July 30, 2007 file photograph, Indian air hostesses explain the facilities available to First Class travelers in Air India's Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft during a function held to commemorate its commencement of operations, at the Chattrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai, India. Gautam Singh / Associated Press

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