Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew
Too fat to fly? Backlash against Gulf airlines’ grounding of ‘overweight’ crew
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.
Saudi Aramco in talks for stake in world’s no. 4 chemical firm
- Aramco made the invitation for the SABIC deal to the banks last month
- The oil giant is expanding its footprint globally by signing downstream deals and boosting the capacity of its plants
DUBAI: Saudi Aramco said on Thursday it is looking to buy a stake in Saudi petrochemical maker SABIC, a move that could boost the state oil giant’s market valuation ahead of a planned initial public offering.
Aramco said in a statement that it was in “very early-stage discussions” with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund to acquire the stake in SABIC via a private transaction. It has no plans to acquire any publicly held shares, it said.
In a separate statement, the PIF also said that talks about a sale were in early stages. “There is a possibility that no agreement will be reached in relation to this potential transaction,” it said.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Saudi Aramco had invited banks to pitch for an advisory role on the potential acquisition of a strategic stake in Saudi Basic Industries Corp, citing two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Aramco wants to develop its downstream business as the government prepares to sell up to 5 percent of the world’s largest oil producer, possibly by next year. Boosting its petrochemicals portfolio further could help attract investors for the IPO.
Riyadh-listed SABIC, the world’s fourth-biggest petrochemicals company, is 70 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s top sovereign wealth fund. It has a market capitalization of 385.2 billion Saudi riyals ($102.7 billion).
The Aramco IPO is the centerpiece of an ambitious plan championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil.
Aramco made the invitation for the SABIC deal to the banks last month, said the sources, declining to be identified due to commercial sensitivities.
Aramco plans to boost investments in refining and petrochemicals to secure new markets for its crude, and sees growth in chemicals as central to its downstream strategy to lessen the risk of a slowdown in oil demand.
The oil giant is expanding its footprint globally by signing downstream deals and boosting the capacity of its plants.
Aramco’s push into chemicals also includes a mega project it is building at home with SABIC. The $20 billion project would build a complex that converts crude oil into chemicals directly, bypassing the refining stage.