Q: What is more difficult than NAVY SEAL training?

Last month the BBC had an article about the stern warning issued by Air India to its cabin crews:

India’s state-owned airline Air India has threatened to ground its overweight cabin crew unless they shed their excess pounds over the next two months.

Some 10% of its 1,600-strong cabin crew are estimated to be overweight or suffering from obesity.

S Venkat, Air India’s general manager public relations, told the BBC that the airline would strictly implement the directive.

We have a tolerance limit that cannot be exceeded,” he said.

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Although the Air India Cabin Crew Association welcomed this decision, they didn’t say anything about the fact that the “tolerance limits” were different for men and women. Quite simply the airline wants hot stewardesses in order to compete in the always cut-throat airline business (see the Kingfisher Airlines picture on the right). Want more proof? Check out the BBC’s most recent report (quite humorous) from freezing cold Delhi:

Delhi can be mercilessly chilly during the opening weeks of January.

Central-heating devoid houses constructed to withstand the furnace-like temperatures of high summer seem more like well-upholstered cold rooms…

So imagine my surprise the other afternoon at finding my favourite outdoor swimming pool absolutely teeming with glamorous young people, in what looked, from a distance at least, like a cross between spring break in Cancun and a Mumbai movie premier.

Swimsuits, stilettos and Speedos abounded. [Link]

Now for those of you who have watched the Discovery Channel specials about NAVY SEAL training, tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

NAVY SEAL training

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As I got closer, the poolside revellers seemed to be undertaking some kind of bizarre initiation ceremony.

A joyless woman wearing dark sunglasses and even darker lipstick was instructing them to leap into the deep end, swim half a length and then return to the side of the pool.

Those that completed this brief aquatic adventure were labelled “eligible.”

Those who floundered were cast out as “rejects.”

After further investigation, all was revealed.

Far from being a poolside party, this was actually the preliminary stage of a job interview. [Link]

This was actually a job interview for Virgin Atlantic Airlines. Rest assured that in addition to having svelte bodies, their stewardesses are trained in underwater demolitions. A few months back NPR did a nice story about the infancy of aviation in America, when apparently having hot stewardesses was part of the joy of flying. It was a very educational story I thought, especially when comparing to air travel today.

Senior air hostesses can earn up to 75,000 rupees a month – about $1,500 – which is great money in a country where 40% of the population struggle to survive on less than $1 a day.

Even on a biting winter afternoon, there was no shortage of volunteers willing to go half-a-length for a bulging pay packet like that – taking the plunge, in the most literal sense of all.

32 thoughts on “Q: What is more difficult than NAVY SEAL training?

  1. they didnÂ’t say anything about the fact that the “tolerance limits” were different for men and women. If India has the equivalent of Title 7, this could make for an interesting gender discrimination case. Speaking of Title 7, our man Alito is yet to find a discrimination case which had ‘merit’. I just cant understand the conservative hostility to discrimination cases.

  2. King Fisher is really nice, and the girls are very pretty in their lil’ red skirts, red lipstick… red everything! Honestly, i even thought about how “different” air india cabin crew looked compared to king fisher’s.

  3. Nice…it’ll be fun to see better looking stewardess etc on indian flights..that’s for sure.

    Talking about restriction on airline crew members, at least the ban here is on being overweight and unattractive and not religiously or culturally driven.

  4. Senior air hostesses can earn up to 75,000 rupees a month – about $1,500 – which is great money in a country where 40% of the population struggle to survive on less than $1 a day.

    I find it amusing that you ALWAYS forget to mention that for $1 a day, one can buy two full, nutritious meals in an average city – NOT the metros, just average cities, and villages are even cheaper – more than 95% of the people in India live there.

  5. “Imagine if crew members can’t fasten their seat belts, how can they fly?”- G Prasad Rao, Air India spokesman.

    If the crew members can’t fasten their seat belts, how can they expect overweight passengers to fasten their seabelts?

    The solution is longer seat belts.

  6. “I find it amusing that you ALWAYS forget to mention that for $1 a day, one can buy two full, nutritious meals in an average city – NOT the metros, just average cities, and villages are even cheaper – more than 95% of the people in India live there.”

    what?! as if that is something we should be striving towards, earning $1 and having two meals, bas, nothing more? not to mention that those meals will not include vegetables, or much beyond dal and roti, or that if there is only one breadwinner, and five mouths to feed then suddenly that meal doesn’t materialize? give me a break — i find your assumptions amusing.

    but what i actually wanted to comment on was the airlines… i know that for me, flying on jet airways is a personal favorite pasttime because they have the best looking cabin crew in the country (men and women) so flying with jet is always a pleasure :) i suddenly find myself requiring extra hot towels and umpteen refills of coffee while flying with them…. ha ha.

  7. Actually at the current exchange rate $1 would buy you a lot of food even in expensive cities like Bangalore. In fact day after day, from 2000 to 2004, $1 bought me a breakfast, lunch and dinner with lots of vegetables, dal, dosa, idli, sambhar… quite healthy, I must say

  8. IndiaÂ’s state-owned airline Air India has threatened to ground its overweight cabin crew unless they shed their excess pounds over the next two months. If you ask me this is absolutely necessary. Let me give you some inside information folks.. I had a sister who was an ” Air-hostess” with Air India. She quit after a couple of years of flying to be a homemaker. The lifestyle these people lead are really unhealthy. Most of them (both men and women) are indulge heavily in smoking, drinking and eating crappy airline food. Life as a flight attendant is not easy, you spent 25-30 hours a week working in an airplane which is oxygen and humidity starved, add another 10-15 hours prepping on the ground. Consider jetlag and odd sleeping hours. Access to unlimited liquor and smokes lead to misuse. Add to that lack of exercise and overindulging. It is a mechanical job with no real challenge than serving food and beverages to people. Ofcourse the primary duty of a flight attendant is looking after the safety of passengers in case of an emergency, but how often does that happen. 90% of flight attendants who join Air-India make it their career and retire as crew members.

    Shedding the extra pounds will help the person first and then the airline. It is a win-win situation. In the process if they can compete for beauty with Kingfisher I say- You go girl, more power and beauty to you.

    Now only if something can be done about the attitude….

  9. I’m really disgusted by this. Imagine the reaction if Air India had said that its employees must meet a ‘fairness’ standard, and those darker than the desired skin tone would have two months to get their skin to the appropriate colour. Weight is no more a permanently changable feature for most people than is skin colour. We know from multiple studies that at least 80 to 90 percent of an individual’s weight is genetically determined. Weight also tends to naturally increase with age and (especially) childbearing, so this type of policy harms older employees and women dispropotionately. ‘Dieting’ to get one’s weight below its natural, genetic set-point (be that set-point 100, 200, or 300 pounds, or whatever) can be extremely harmful, is almost never permanent, and, in over 90% of the cases, leads to the regain of more weight than was originally lost. Sorry if this sounds like a rant, folks, but I’m really sick of weight-based discrimination being the last socially acceptable prejudice. Hiring/firing airline employees based on perceived sex appeal, rather than job competence, is a recipe for unhappy customers and even dangerous outcomes in the case of an emergency (and ‘individual’ emergencies, such as heath crises, do happen with some regularity on airplanes, evn if major disasters are rare; obviously, competent employees can mean the difference between life and death in some such instances). I would certainly take to task any traveller who would actually make ‘sexy stewardesses’ a factor in airline choice.

  10. We know from multiple studies that at least 80 to 90 percent of an individual’s weight is genetically determined.

    No we don’t. Fairness makes no difference to airplanes, weight does. American airlines announced they are spending more on fuel as Americans get heavier. So Air India, if they want to be sneaky bastards, can use that excuse. Anyway, no one is forcing anyone to become a stewardess. As for the ones already employed by AI, they can only benefit from trying to get fitter.

    However, I entirely agree that weight-discrimination is not acceptable where weight has no impact on the job. And I agree the most important aspect for cabin crew is knowing what to do in an emergency. However, if the training is the same, I make no bones in saying I would like sexy stewardesses.

  11. As we debate this issue, no one has really addressed the statement that Air India is holding men and women to different standards. I think the requirement to lose weight would be fair for all of the reasons mentioned above if it were an equally-enforced policy. But because it isn’t gender-neutral, it is discriminatory, and we can’t ignore that. As an aside, biologically, women carry more weight than men, especially as they get older and have children.

  12. more than 95% of the people in India live there.

    Savya, I am hoping that you were not serious when you threw that figure around, were you?

    forget all these beautiful stewardess, people. I’d take IA/AI anyday over any of these airlines just for the food. Man, the last time I took a Chicago-London-Bombay…they gave me such excellent food the only memories I have of that journey is eating and sleeping. Almost as good as homemade. Even for domestic flights IA’s food beats Jet hands down. Don’t know how Jet has improved off late. Not to mention you already start getting “feel of India” the moment you step in AI lounge. That amusing look on western backpackers at each and every phase of the journey is simply precious :)

    Plus in all these hifi airlines, I find the staff a bit too much prim-propah kinda, if you know what I mean. Also the yuppy stewardess have no clue how to deal with crying kids. In long distance flight it matters. And in my experience AI’s aunties are perfectly suited for that role. What say ladies?

  13. I agree completely with Suhail, I would prefer a homely Indianised flight with excellent flight anyday than the ‘yuppy’ air hostesses on the hip flights. That said kingfisher stewardesses are hot!

  14. I’d take IA/AI anyday over any of these airlines just for the food.

    In my experience the food on the IA/AI flight I once flew on was pretty sad. I since havnt flown on IA/AI so I dont have a lot to go on. Also, I have been told that IA/AI are noisy and smelly and the attendants are rude.

  15. Also the yuppy stewardess have no clue how to deal with crying kids. In long distance flight it matters. And in my experience AI’s aunties are perfectly suited for that role. What say ladies?

    What I say is that it is the responsibility of both mothers AND fathers to control their crying children.

  16. You guys have clearly not flown Sahara on the Delhi-Bombay sector. Now, there’s some serious candy.

    Since we have moved onto serious issues of discrimination, I would not like to make light (!) of this matter by getting all leery here though. So here’s the hard thinking me that you have come to love and cherish.

    Weight is not ’80-90% determined’ (whatever that means) by genetics. You may have a propensity to gain weight if you are within 80-90% of the population, but it is not as if 80-90% of your excess bodyweight is predestined by your genes. Moreover, the bulk of overweight people are in the US and not in Asia where most of the population of the world resides — so your figure 80-90% carries no weight. There are people with serious genetic weight issues — but that is very tiny. For the vast majority, obesity is as a result of improper lifestyle choices — ask any grad student that binges on chocolate and puts pounds around the mid-riff.

  17. DDIA – I flew the Delhi-Bombay sector on Sahara. Dissapointing man, especially when the Jet groundstaff and crew for the same sector were smokin’!

  18. The over-weight pandemic has spread not only to Airlines industry but also to railways, state buses, banks, government offices, telecom and industrial units. Boredome and inactivity caused by frequent strikes is speculated to be the root cause.

  19. It’d be nice, I guess, if my air hosts/hostesses were sexy, and if my valet and bellhop were sexy, and if my doctor and my accountant were sexy too. But I’d be personally unhappy to be selected for any job based on how I look. Ethnic minorities especially can’t be too confident about living and dying by that particular sword.

    A few years ago, a high-end hotelier, who openly seeks out a “sexy” workforce (an increasingly common practice), fired a bunch of staff-members whom he didn’t think had the right look. Incidentally, almost everyone he fired was Asian, Hispanic, or black. [LINK]

    I’d rather live in a world where people have a reasonable expectation of being judged by their qualifications, regardless of appearance, even if that means fewer 22-year-olds in tight pants serving me drinks.

  20. “For the vast majority, obesity is as a result of improper lifestyle choices.”

    Um, no. Much of the most-compelling research on weight and genetics has been done with twins (such as this study), and demonstrates genetically alike (or similar, in the case of fraternal twins) adults have similar adult body weights regardless of other factors. While pretty much every aspect of body formation has both genetic and environmental influences, weight, like height, seems to be strongly marked by the former. (You can systematically starve a naturally tall child to try to make him shorter, or a naturally fat child to try to make her lighter, but the result will surely be a physically and emotionally damaged person). It’s been pretty well established that, while ‘better’ lifesyle choices may reduce weight, in a proportion of people, to some degree, it will not necessarily put them anywhere near what is considered ‘ideal’ by the mainstream media and the allopathic-medical-industrial complex (or Air India management). The point of all of this is that Air India is discriminating against people for something which it is often not within their power to change, is of marginal-if-any relevance to their work, and could induce self-destructive behaviour like dieting and excessive exercising in employees desperate to keep their jobs. Further, this is being done in hopes of attracting customers through ‘more-attractive’ attendants (as if thin=attractive? How come no mutineers are challenging this little piece of Anglocentric nonsense?) Air India must surely be aware that if they came right out and said ‘we only want hotties’, they would be publically disgraced and perhaps legally challenged. The persistence of the ‘fat-by-choice’ lie lets people get away with a lot of despicable behaviour without facing the appropriate social and legal consequences.

    “[A]sk any grad student that binges on chocolate and puts pounds around the mid-riff.”

    Yes, I’m fat, and a grad student — though I personally prefer bingeing on tofu rather than chocolate. :-)

  21. What I say is that it is the responsibility of both mothers AND fathers to control their crying children.

    Ofcourse. But let’s face it..things do get out of hands. You can’t really reason with a one year old on a flight. But I’ve seen AI stewardess going out of the way to deal with kids. Like offering the first row seat to those with small kids in tow and asking the person sitting there if he’d like to exchange seats, getting toys before the kid starts crying, coming over to help that mom flying for the first time to handle the kid while she fills in the customs card etcetc.. I just think they have a way with all this and that just helps fellow passengers to doze through their postmeal session :) Faced with such situations PYTs quickly turn into clueless zombies not knowing what to do.

  22. theresa:

    In case you haven’t checked, minimum wage for a lowly unskilled labourer in India is over $3 a day. UNSKILLED. LABOURER. In Patna, NO labourer will work for for an entire day for ANYTHING less than $5 a day, PLUS food.

    Dal, the last time I checked, is rich in protein. Also, the last time I visited India, organic veggies were less than 20 cents for a kilo, and EVERYONE I could see (meaning POOR people living in HUTS) were buying them – EVERYONE EXCEPT the rich, pot bellied idiots who prefer pizza. In other words – go to the MOST POPULOUS and POOREST states like Bihar, and you will find that THEY are the ones that eat the most nutritious food, for the simple reason that they cannot AFFORD junk food. While I want them to have more money, I certainly DO NOT want to see the filth of McDonald’s in Patna. I hope McDonkey’s…..oops….McD’s stays away.

    I am NOT saying that things are excellent; just that 50 rupees is a LOT of money in India.

    And 67% of Indian population lives in villages. Most of the others (by most I mean over 25%) do NOT live in metros. Isn’t that the figure? Correct me if I am wrong.

  23. Areem and others: so the airlines are trying to attract customers with attractive flight attendants…how is this any different from the hostesses you see at restaurants? They are chosen based on several characteristics, including their attractiveness, because that’s part of what draws customers in. Just because “attractiveness” is not technically in the job description of a hostess doesn’t mean it is not an important practical consideration when it comes to the bottom line. You won’t find a lot of obese hostesses at restaurants, and there’s a reason for that: an obese hostess does not attract customers to a restaurant as well as a svelte one. It’s the same with flight attendants. I’m sure there are a lot of thin but otherwise unattractive people that wouldn’t make the cut either.

  24. I’m really disgusted by this. Imagine the reaction if Air India had said that its employees must meet a ‘fairness’ standard, and those darker than the desired skin tone would have two months to get their skin to the appropriate colour.

    It not too hard to imagine employers in India setting a “fairness standard”. I did my undergraduate in Hotel management in India and tried to get a Management Trainee position with some of the leading luxury chains (Oberoi, Welcomgroup, Taj, etc). During the interview process my faculty kept telling me that I should apply for a sous chef position, because the fact that I was very dark would stand in the way of me getting a job in the front of the house. Anyway, I didn’t get a MT position, but didn’t want to be pessimistic enough to believe it was my lack of fairness. After working for two years in a position one step removed from management, the people at Welcomgroup decided to send me for an interview for a management trainee position again, and I didn’t get it. When I got back, my boss told me that they had said I was good but my skin was too dark. I promptly quit and went to get a business degree and get the hell out of the hotel business. The airline business isn’t too far removed from the types of people and the attitudes you encounter in the hotel business in India, I have a lot of friends who went from one to the other and tell me it’s the same. Its pretty disgusting and I don’t believe that its fair to consider someone’s looks as a factor when employing them, no matter what the job is.

  25. “Areem and others: so the airlines are trying to attract customers with attractive flight attendants…how is this any different from the hostesses you see at restaurants?”

    It’s not, and it’s perfectly legitimate to acknowledge that the situtation is widespread. Which is certainly not the same as defending it.

    “You won’t find a lot of obese hostesses at restaurants, and there’s a reason for that: an obese hostess does not attract customers to a restaurant as well as a svelte one.”

    Yep, or in lots of other jobs either. The research shows that, even in the US, this type of discrimination is rampant. For example, “16% of employers admitted they wouldn’t hire obese women under any conditions; an additional 44% would only hire them under certain circumstances. An 1993 article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that, on average, overweight women earn $6,710 less per year than thin women” (source linked to above). Problem is, fat people need to work, regardless of whether their presence is perceived as ‘attracting more customers’. Claiming that customers prefer thin employees just perpetuates the cycle of discrimination, and makes it appear to validate the prejudices of those holding them. The situation is nearly identical to that described in the previous post, re: the hotel industry and complexion colour.

  26. “In case you haven’t checked, minimum wage for a lowly unskilled labourer in India is over $3 a day. UNSKILLED. LABOURER. In Patna, NO labourer will work for for an entire day for ANYTHING less than $5 a day, PLUS food.”

    ya, i def. have checked, and your facts need to have some sort of back up because there is NO minimum wage in india, and in patna there are labourers who carry shit (yes, actual human shit) all day, as their jobs, and make about 20 rupees a day. so please, please don’t be so naive as to believe that this is normal for a labourer to make $5 a day (which for those keeping track would be 220 rupees.)

    Just for a back-up, in real-time, the people working on the apartment building next door are from Bihar (I live in South Delhi) and they are making 1,000 a month each NOT including food, but they do get to live in the building as they are working on it. and these people have families. and this is a “good job”… i guess all those $5 a day jobs in Patna are filled up?

  27. Obesity of flight crew is a liability in air travel. You must remember, that these men and women are responsible not just for serving you your drinks and meals, but in the unfortunate event of a complication, are there to help the hundreds of passengers on board. Needless to mention is the fact that airlines spend millions (probably billions) to insure themselves and a fit flight attendant is absolutely mandatory to even attempt to assure the safety of passengers.

    Seeing the comments here, it is quite apparent that we Indians have become so politically correct that we choose to neglect common sense.

    To the person above that suggested “longer seat belts” for the obese attendants, since obviously obese travelers are allowed, well, the passenger isnt expected to perform any duties. Please try and use logical reasoning before you make comments such as these and prove your near-sightedness.

    @Areem: If you are obese, do you expect to be taken on the olympic swim team? And I would like some justification of your claims that weight once lost is “gained in greater sum” if the “genetic set point” is violated. There is no such thing as “genetic set points” as far as weight is concerned. There is also no co-relation between weight and genetics. I dont know where you are getting your info, but it is BS. Weight has to do with hormones and metabolism, both of which continuously vary throughout the life of a normal human being. It is quite possible to affect a change in your metabolism (speed it up if you are fat, or slow it down if you are too thin).

    Finally, to the article itself, I don’t think wanting to hire “hot” men and women as cabin crew is a bad thing. To the naive, appearances ARE important in any hospitality industry. The rants just go to show the duality and hypocrisy of the commenters. A suggestion as well, how about more facts and less opinion. You haven’t really mentioned what the airlines expect of their cabin crew to comment whether they are “asking for too much” or if there is any “gender disparity”.