H.M.C. Nimalsiri, the Director General & Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka has issued a directive termed ‘Medical Requirements and Examinations for Cabin Crew Members’ that is likely to see many currently obese Flight Attendants of SriLankan Airlines either been removed from flying duties or terminated.
One of the objectives of the issued directive to the national carrier SriLankan Airlines dated 15th of August 2017, is to ensure that each Cabin Crew remains medically fit to discharge the duties specified in the job description of the Cabin Crew Member and other internal and regulatory manuals which governs their profession.
The directive also emphasizes that the physical and mental ability of a Cabin Crew Member is essential in order to:
(a) Handle and efficiently operate the aircraft systems and emergency equipment in the cabin which are used for safety and emergency procedures e.g. cabin management systems, doors/exits, escape devices, fire extinguishers, taking also into account the type of aircraft operated e.g. narrow-bodied or wide-bodied, single/multi deck, single/multi-crew operation;
(b) Sustain continuously the aircraft environment whilst performing duties, e.g. altitude, pressure, re-circulated air, noise; and the type of operations such as short/medium/long haul; where applicable and / or when called upon to do so.
(c) Perform the required duties and responsibilities efficiently during normal and abnormal operations, and in emergency situations and psychologically demanding circumstances e.g. assistance to crew members and passengers in case of decompression; stress management, decision-making, crowd control and effective crew coordination, management of disruptive passengers and of security threats. When relevant, operating with minimum, crew should also be taken into account when assessing the medical fitness of cabin crew; and
(d) Create a good image, impression and also provide confidence to average passengers that they are in the safe hand of professional crew who are dynamic and agile enough to respond to any unlikely event of an emergency.
Cabin Crew are now required to undergo a full medical examination which will also include the measurement of weight and height by using the standard Body Mass Index Chart.
Cabin Crew will be categorized as Fit, Temporary Unfit or Permanent Unfit at the conclusion of their medical examination.
With the aviation industry expanding at phenomenal speed and air travel been a necessity rather than a luxury as in the past, it is an industry norm that airlines strive to maintain and portray their corporate and brand image through their Cabin Crew.
However from a Cabin Crew Member’s perspective there are many challenges that they face doing this job over the years. Irregular working hours and sleep patterns, fatigue, disturbance of the body’s circadian rhythm and irregular timings of food intake have been contributing factors over the years for weight gain.
A leading Middle Eastern carrier has a separate unit within their Cabin Crew Training Center to help their flyers in the area of weight management. Cabin Crew Members have their height and weight measured annually and those found to be overweight are provided all the help needed. Several Cabin Crew of this airline have benefited from this programme over the years, as they are brought in, educated, and provided individual attention and care needed to arrest this type of issue.
However a Cabin Crew Member from SriLankan Airlines speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity said “It is unfair to introduce policies such as this overnight and have them implemented, where it is definitely is going to affect many of us. The management should first educate the entire Cabin Crew cadre on weight loss management and help us in this area over a period of time. Last year the company initiated a similar exercise, but that was clearly to get rid of some contracted Cabin Crew whose contracts they did not want to renew. This is definitely a ploy used by the airline to clinically get rid of certain Cabin Crew. We know how the current Director General / CEO of CAA Nimalsiri cows down to the management of SriLankan Airlines. Many senior aviation professionals within the industry have complained that the Civil Aviation Authority has had the reputation of being a toothless tiger when dealing with the national carrier. With even the current Director General / CEO Nimalsiri being severely exposed in the media for many alleged fraudulent and corrupt deals, it won’t be surprising if this directive was drafted by SriLankan Airlines itself and passed on to the Director General CAA who in turn sent it back to the airline, as if he had introduced this directive.”
Colombo Telegraph published an article titled “SriLankan Airlines To Ground Overweight Cabin Crew” on the 2nd June 2016. Then SriLankan Airlines instructed its Cabin Crew to visit the company Medical Officer in order to have their BMI measured. However at that time the CAA of Sri Lanka was not involved in that process.
Commenting on this topic Gender justice activist Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana said: “Given the record of Sri Lankan airlines in dealing with cabin crew, these new rules are to be taken with a fine pinch of salt. The emphasis is on, I quote a ‘good image’, a ‘brand image’ etc. and then it drifts to weight control. These rules have an ‘eliminatory’ aspect to them, and in this 21st century that is deeply problematic. We need to seriously ask Mr Nimalsiri as to when he launched a comprehensive support programme for ALL cabin staff on the good maintenance of their health. Regulations of this nature, for them to be justifiable and simply workable, need to be complemented by a strongly vetted and comprehensive programme that facilitates cabin crew to look after their overall health. In the absence of anything like that, Mr Nimalsiri thinks he can come up with a set of rules and regulations, and use it to throw people under the bus, and not only from a gender justice perspective, but simply from a perspective of basic human dignity, that is despicable. The objective seems to be to keep all cabin crew lean and thin – as it transpires from the directive that Mr Nimalsiri equates good brand image with lean bodies – and I am convinced women will be at the worst receiving end of this. In a world where countries specialised in lines of work such as modelling ban extreme thinness (see here), Sri Lankan airlines seem to be run by men with an archaic, conservative and very-un-21st century-like worldview.”
Meanwhile whilst DG / CEO of CAA Nimalasiri has laid focus on the weight gain of Cabin Crew, leading French fashion companies such as Kering and LVMH enforced a new ruling a few days ago, where they will stop hiring excessively thin models worldwide. This is as severe criticism was leveled in the fashion industry that the profession of modeling encouraged eating disorders. France went on to ban ultra-thin models under a 2015 law though it only stipulated models needed a doctor’s note attesting to their health based on age and their BMI.
Miffed by this new directive, the Flight Attendants Union sent out a message to its membership which read “Dear Comrades our fundamental rights as citizens of Sri Lanka have been violated in the above documents; as such your union will be making a concerted effort to have this ridiculous document removed legally. Be assured we will not allow our members to be bullied or have to face loss of employment. Be Strong, Stay Strong; justice will prevail.!!!” (By Jacqueline Senanayake)