Medical fitness norms are created in the interest of the safety of millions of passengers. No airline should make compromises in this area
CASE 1: The country’s top civil aviation regulator has issued fresh guidelines for the cabin crew of all airlines. The new norms require cabin crew to adhere to the requirements of Body Mass Index (BMI). If the cabin crew fails to achieve the required BMI, then he/she would be declared ‘temporarily unfit’ for six months. While this move has to be seen in the larger context of the fitness of the cabin crew, one particular domestic airline will be the hardest hit. While most airlines recruit young people for their crew, this particular airline has air hostesses who are more than 40 years old. Three-four years earlier, the airline had sacked three flight attendants for being overweight. But, the Supreme Court overturned the decision. Now, how should the airline respond to the latest DGCA missive? Was it justified earlier in seeking to sack overweight cabin crew?
It is difficult to comment on whether this airline was justified in sacking the three overweight hostesses since we neither have the full text of the case with us nor do we know the exact reasons for their reinstatement. We have to look at the medical fitness issue in relation to the kind of role the cabin crew is expected to perform. On the one hand, a cabin crew member has to provide excellent service to passengers and ensure their comfort and on the other they are responsible for safety throughout the flight. They are trained to deal with emergencies, administer first aid and provide necessary support to the passengers, including those with special needs and disabilities. In case of emergencies like cabin fires and medical situations, the cabin crew is expected to guide the passengers and help them so that they follow the correct emergency procedures.
They have to work in difficult nonstandard working hours, which can be physically exhausting. Those who serve on international flights have to deal with jet lag also. Keeping in view the role expectations and difficult working conditions, regulatory authorities in various countries prescribe various physical fitness norms for the cabin crew in their own countries. In India, it is the Directorate General of Civil Aviation who is responsible for establishing these norms. In addition to the medical fitness norms, DGCA and other International regulators provide guidelines/rules for training and retraining of the air crew. From time to time, depending on the circumstances, these norms are reviewed and revised.
Medical fitness norms are created in the interest of the safety of the millions of passengers. I don’t think any airline should make compromises in this area. The Supreme Court judgment passed three to four years earlier will have to be viewed in the context of the latest safety and physical fitness norms prescribed by the regulator.
If this airline mentioned in the case has an issue of the aging overweight cabin crew, this will have to be dealt with firmly and fairly in the interest of passengers who fly by this airline. There can’t be any compromises. In the interest of fairness, the airline can give sufficient notice to the crew to become physically fit, provide necessary education and support and facilities to quickly get into shape. For those who can’t come up to the expected level of fitness, this airline can look at the possibilities of rehabilitating the unfit crew to ground duties. I personally will be very uncomfortable to be served by crew who is not medically fit as per DGCA norms. Let us appreciate in this case age is not the criterion for continuity of employment. The only criterion seems to be physical fitness and skills necessary for the safety of passengers, capability to handle emergency situations and handling special needs of the ailing, old, or physically disabled passengers.