Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew

The CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker issued an apology after he compared the crews on his airline with the ‘grandmothers on American carriers’. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew

LONDON: Two Gulf airlines have come under fire from grounded crew members deemed too fat to fly.
Air transport unions say weight discrimination is a problem with some airlines who regularly weigh crew members to ensure they are within closely-monitored bands.
Employees from regional carriers including Qatar Airways have confided to Arab News that they have faced being grounded or have been “humiliated” by their employers for being overweight.
A former Qatar Airways cabin member, who asked to be quoted by his first name “Martin,” said when he worked for the Doha-based airline he was sent a letter by the management asking him to lose 10 kilos.
Martin, who was 23 at the time of the reprimand, said: “I’m a big guy, yes, but I’m in proportion.” Martin is 180cm tall and at the time of receiving the letter he weighed 90 kilograms.
“I knew if I didn’t lose the weight they would ground me and it would be humiliating,” he said. “They send you the letter and then give you three months to lose the weight.”
Martin said it was “difficult” to lose weight when flying because no special diet food was provided. He said: “I lost the 10 kilograms in just one month by just eating vegetables. I was hungry all the time.”
He added that he found the management very “controlling.”
The former cabin member, who now works for Argentine Airlines, said: “It’s wrong.
In Argentina we have all sorts of bodies. Would you like someone super-young and slender to serve you, or would you like someone more experienced who can save you in the event of an accident?”
He said of Qatar Airways: “They measure your height and they tell you it’s because of aircraft requirements and about being able to reach things. Then they take your weight measurements but they are not clear about why. Why?”
Martin added: “I understand that they want you to look good but they forget that we are humans, especially when they consider the poor quality of the available food and our limited time.”
In June, the CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker was forced to issue an apology after he compared the crews on his airline with those of US-based carriers.
“By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years,” he said in Dublin during a celebration of the launch of a new international route.
“So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers ... You know you’re always being served by grandmothers on American carriers.”
The comment sparked outrage by labor unions representing US-based pilot and flight attendants.
Al-Baker’s comments came just two years after the Doha-based airline faced a massive backlash for its policy of firing female cabin crew for getting married or pregnant.
At the time, the airline was forced to make a U-turn and now offers pregnant women temporary ground jobs, and they can get married at any time after “notifying” the company.
In the wake of recent court cases against Aeroflot and Malaysian Airlines for alleged staff discrimination on the basis of appearance, a serving cabin member for Emirates told Arab News: “The company has a weight management system and there is a roster code for crew who are subject to this so it is fairly easy to check for this practice.”
According to documents seen by Arab News, the code “GAM” appears to denote that a member of Emirates staff has been grounded for “appearance management” reasons.
A female former cabin member who worked at Emirates from 2013-2016 confirmed to Arab News the airline regularly weighs its staff and “grounds” people for being overweight.
“People who were overweight had to work in the training college until they lost weight,” the 33-year-old told Arab News on the condition of anonymity. “I definitely felt self-conscious working at Emirates. They only hire skinny women so you are aware that you need to maintain that appearance, and also being weighed on a recurring basis is not nice.”
The disgruntled former Emirates worker, who now works for British Airways, added: “They only want young pretty girls, experience is not their priority.”
Gabriel Mocho, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) civil aviation section secretary, told Arab News that the practice of sexism, as well as appearance and weight discrimination are a “problem” in some airlines. “When it happens we will call the airline out on it,” he said.
Mocho said discriminating on the basis of a person’s weight is “wholly illegitimate.”
He said: “We tend to see it in countries where there’s little or no union presence, and where labor legislation and the culture of flight safety are weak — both on paper and in implementation. Cut-throat competition among airlines due to decades of deregulation without proper social safeguards is making the situation worse.”
Mocho said discrimination would only be justified if a person’s weight undermined their ability to perform safety-related duties, but said this is not what is happening in these cases.
The ITF secretary said: “This is discrimination. It’s an unacceptable practice. Once again it ignores the fact that cabin crew are, first and foremost, safety professionals — not ornaments for the vanity of an airline.”
A spokesperson from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) confirmed to Arab News in a statement that excess weight is not a specific safety concern.
“There is nothing specifically about weight for cabin crew in the EASA regulations,” the spokesperson said.
“Obviously crew must be able to carry out the job to the relevant safety standards required. If this isn’t possible, airlines usually work with the individual to bring them to the required standard.”
Despite disapproval of airline weight monitoring practices at the union level, not all cabin crew deem the policies to be unfair.
Narissa, who worked for Emirates until May 2017, told Arab News she supports the airline’s weight management policies.
“It’s a good initiative. People who get letters are really overweight,” she said. “You are the face of the airline. They also ... expect you to move quite fast and you can’t do that if you’re very overweight.”
However she also expressed skepticism over whether the practice was really related to safety onboard.
“They say it’s because of health reasons but really it’s because they want us to look good. All the new joiners look like they are straight off the runway.”
Qatar Airways and Emirates did not respond to requests for ­comment.


British PM May: 'I will not break up my country for EU Brexit deal'

Updated 21 September 2018
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British PM May: 'I will not break up my country for EU Brexit deal'

  • Theresa May hits back with angry statement after EU leaders rejected May’s Chequers plan
  • Sterling plummets as both sides warn they are planning for a no-deal scenario

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday Brexit talks with the European Union had hit an impasse, defiantly challenging the bloc to come up with their own plans a day after the bloc’s leaders savaged her proposals.
At a summit in Austria on Thursday, EU leaders rejected May’s “Chequers” plan, saying she needed to give ground on trade and customs arrangements for the UK border with Ireland.
The British media said the response had left her proposals in tatters, and May angrily struck back in a televised address from her Downing Street office, saying neither side should expect the impossible from the other.
“Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect,” May said. “The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.”
Sterling extended its losses as May spoke, falling to as low as $1.3080, about 1.4 percent on the day, putting it on course for its biggest one-day drop this year, over growing fears Britain could leave the EU without any deal.
May has said the Chequers proposals for trade with the EU, which would resolve arguments over the border of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, were the only way forward. EU leaders in Salzburg repeated their view that the plans would undermine their cherished single market.
After the summit, EU leaders said they would push for an agreement next month, but both sides have warned they are planning for a no-deal scenario.
“It’s not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals,” May said. “So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are, what their alternative is, so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”
May, who commands a majority in parliament only with the support of a small pro-Brexit Northern Irish party, said she could not agree to any deal which treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The EU insists that there can be no hard border between the British province and the Irish Republic, with Northern Ireland remaining in the bloc’s customs union or effectively establishing a border in the Irish Sea if no alternative deal is reached.
“I will not overturn the result of the referendum nor will I break up my country,” she said. “We need serious engagement on resolving the two main problems in the negotiations and we stand ready.”
However, she said no matter what happened, the rights of three million EU citizens living in the United Kingdom would be protected.
Earlier, her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said some EU leaders had shown unstatesmanlike behavior in Salzburg.
“We’ve already compromised hugely with the Chequers proposals,” Raab told BBC TV. “What we’re not going to do is be salami sliced throughout this negotiation in a typical style that the EU engages in without movement on the other side.”
For the British media, the message from Salzburg had been clear. “Your Brexit’s broken,” the Daily Mirror newspaper said.
Newspapers led their front pages with a Reuters picture showing May, dressed in a red jacket, standing apparently aloof and alone from a mass of suited male EU leaders.
May faces a fight with angry Conservative lawmakers at her party’s annual conference from Sept. 30.
Many have voiced opposition to her plans, which they said would bind Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade, and some would prefer a no-deal “hard Brexit” in March, despite warnings that would ravage the British economy.
“Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating strategy has been a disaster,” opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “The Tories have spent more time arguing among themselves than negotiating with the EU.
“The political games from both the EU and our government need to end because no deal is not an option.”
In response to May’s statement, the Confederation of British Industry and other business bodies said they wanted to see constructive dialogue, not rhetoric.
Last week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan added his voice to those including union and business leaders who said there should be a second Brexit referendum. Scotland’s top court ruled on Friday that the European Court of Justice should consider whether Britain could unilaterally change its mind on Brexit.
“The referendum was the largest democratic exercise this country has ever undergone,” said May, who has repeatedly ruled out a second vote following the original 2016 referendum. “To deny its legitimacy or frustrate its result threatens public trust in our democracy.”