Several female flight attendants at the Russian carrier (and SkyTeam partner) Aeroflot have reportedly filed legal complaints against the airline charging discrimination based on their age and weight, according to published reports.
They haven’t lost their jobs, but the flight attendants allege that the airline pulled them off long-haul international flights and reassigned them to domestic or regional routes, where they work fewer hours and earn smaller bonuses.
The employees said that last June, Aeroflot told them it needed crew information to prepare an order for new uniforms, so the flight attendants were photographed, measured and weighed. But they contend this was just a ploy, and that the real purpose of gathering that information was to assign jobs based on appearance, age and weight.
The flight attendants said anyone older than 40 and/or wearing a dress size larger than 14 (by U.S. size standards) was pulled from international flight assignments. Aeroflot has denied the flight attendants’ allegations.
Even in the U.S., airlines had a history of flight attendant requirements that were clearly discriminatory by modern standards. Before the 1960s and 1970s, airlines used to set strict weight standards for female flight attendants, and required them to give up their jobs if they got married, got pregnant or passed a certain age – usually in their early 30s.
Airlines generally would not hire men for flight attendant jobs, arguing that their male business traveler passengers preferred young, attractive women. (Are you old enough to remember Southwest’s “hot pants” flight attendant uniforms, or National Airlines’ notoriously sexist “Fly Me” ad campaign?).
But most of those discriminatory practices gradually went away, thanks to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the deregulation of the airlines, and the determined efforts of flight attendant unions. Union seniority rules came into play that generally guaranteed the older flight attendants would be assigned to the plum international routes. You can see the history of those efforts here.
Still, the old ways died hard for some travelers, most famously the late USA Today founder Al Neuharth. In 1989, he caused a public firestorm with a column in which he longed for the days of “young, attractive, enthusiastic flight attendants,” who he said had been “replaced by aging women who are tired of their jobs or by flighty young men who have trouble balancing a cup of coffee or tea.”
What’s the regimen like for modern U.S. flight attendants? Check out this TravelSkills post from 2015 when our reporter went to a United Airlines training session.
Readers: Do you care what your flight attendants look like, how old they are, or whether they’re male or female? Please leave your comments below.
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