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Being overweight won't fly -- not on Air India

  • Story Highlights
  • Until two years ago, Air India allowed an attendant's weight to vary within 6.6 pounds
  • Weight-discrimination lawsuits forced U.S. carriers to do away with weight limits
  • In India, the attendants are not deemed medically unfit -- just over the weight limit
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From Sara Sidner
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Flight attendant Sheela Joshi is 5 feet, 4 inches and 148 pounds.

Her employer, Air India, says she is too fat to fly.

Joshi, 50, has been an air hostess -- as they are still called in India -- for the national airline for 26 years. But she's been grounded because the airline has done away with its wiggle room on weight.

Until two years ago, Air India allowed an attendant's weight to vary within 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) of a specified limit. It has since put in place strict weight parameters that all attendants must meet. When they don't, the airline grounds them without pay until they shed the excess pounds.

The airline says that someone who is Sheila's age, height and weight should weigh 143 pounds (65 kilograms). She misses the mark by 5 pounds.

"It's very demoralizing," Joshi told CNN. "And ... it's quite humiliating."

"Weight is always on my mind," she added. "They can tell you, 'You look overweight. Please go.'"

Joshi and 12 other grounded attendants sued the airline for weight discrimination. Air India fought back, saying the employees knew the job requirements when they signed up and didn't express concern. Video Watch airline defend its position »

Furthermore, it said, appearance and physical fitness are vital parts of an attendant's job.

"(A) safety concern is also there," said Air India's lawyer, Rupinder Singh Suri. "Because it's a high action job. And in case of emergencies, the person has to accelerate and move at a very, very fast pace."

Weight used to be a consideration for airlines in the United States, as well. Then, a series of weight-discrimination lawsuits forced carriers to do away with it.

Now "most airlines want candidates with weight proportionate to height," according to the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.

In the India case, the airline hasn't deemed any of the attendants medically unfit -- just over the weight limit.

Their attorney contends the move is actually about getting rid of older, well-compensated women in favor of younger ones who will do the job for less money.

"They have spent their entire life working for Indian airlines," said lawyer Arvind Sharma. "They were small girls when they came in now. They are 45-plus and they feel bad."

The Delhi High Court recently sided with Air India in the case. Joshi's attorney has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.


In the meantime, Joshi and some of her colleagues say they aren't taking any chances.

They are going on diets to get airborne again.

All About Air-India Ltd.U.S. Department of Labor

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