26.04.17
Aeroflot Workers Are Told Passengers Want Attractive Flight Crews

By Neil MacFarquhar

By Russian standards, the news conference on Tuesday was unusual: an airing of grievances by two female flight attendants who had taken the rare step of suing Aeroflot, the country’s flag carrier, for age and sex discrimination.

Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse
A cabin crew for the Russian airline Aeroflot at the International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in 2015.
In 2016, Aeroflot suggested that women on its cabin staff fit into a maximum clothing size of 48, equivalent to a 14 in the United States. Credit Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse

The event took a bizarre twist, however, as two men defending the airline interrupted the proceedings to upbraid the two employees, talking about one’s breast size, and undercutting repeated assertions from Aeroflot that it had not discriminated by arguing that attractive flight staff were important for business.

Both sides focused on what they said was a move by Aeroflot in 2016 to enforce weight guidelines for its cabin staff, suggesting that women fit into a maximum clothing size of 48, equivalent to a 14 in the United States. Men were allowed somewhat more weight, according to an independent union representative.

The two women, Evgeniya V. Magurina and Irina N. Ierusalimskaya, who sued separately, said they were barred from international flights, losing a significant chunk of their potential paychecks, because their clothing sizes were larger. (Ms. Magurina said hers is 52.)

Ms. Magurina told the news conference that she wanted to know why her “professional success” was tied to her clothing size. The two women — one of whom had worked for the airline for 26 years — lost their initial court cases and had called the news conference to announce they would appeal.

Pavel V. Danilin, a journalist, and Nikita A. Krichevskiy, an economist, both speaking for the Aeroflot Public Council, loudly enunciated several reasons they thought the guidelines should be followed. The advisory council works at the behest of the company, but its 25 members are not paid and are not official spokesmen for the airline.

First, Aeroflot was striving to join the ranks of the top 10 airlines in the world so the appearance of the cabin staff mattered because customers want pretty flight attendants, they said. (One wag on Twitter suggested the food might be a more productive place to concentrate first.)

Second, of some 600 cabin attendants informed that they were overweight, only about 50 failed to lose the extra pounds.

Third, heavy flight attendants would present a danger in any emergency situation and the women should be grateful that the airline took an interest in their health, they said.

Sergei Savostyanov/TASS
Evgeniya V. Magurina, right, one of the flight attendants suing Aeroflot, at a court hearing last week in Moscow. Ms. Magurina is challenging the airline’s weight guidelines for its cabin staff, asking why her “professional success” is being tied to her clothing size. Credit Sergei Savostyanov/TASS

There was also some discussion of an argument that the airline had made — that planes carrying heavier employees cost the company more in fuel consumption.

“I don’t understand why the requirement of wearing size 42-48 is considered so unworkable,” said Mr. Krichevskiy, adding that he had shed 20 kilograms in recent years.

As the discussion grew heated, Mr. Krichevskiy accused Ms. Magurina of bragging about her body during court hearings. “She said she had big breasts which served her well throughout her life, and more recently started doing her a disservice,” he said. The two women shook their heads in disbelief, but did not respond directly.

Aeroflot, which has earned high marks in recent years for shedding its Soviet skin to become a fairly efficient, friendly airline, quickly tried to distance itself from the proceedings.

Aeroflot issued a statement noting that the Public Council meets twice a year and that the opinions of its members do not necessarily represent the views of Aeroflot.

“N. Krichevskiy and P. Danilin were expressing their personal opinions,” the statement said. “They are public figures and on their own initiative expressed the desire to take part in today’s press conference. Aeroflot’s position was set out in the Court, which rejected the claims brought by Magurina and Ierusalimskaya against Aeroflot.”

The two men had cited a passenger survey in which passengers overwhelmingly stated a preference for attractive cabin crews, and the airline’s public relations agency in London sent it out again on Tuesday.

Every Aeroflot flight starts with a video of three skinny, statuesque female flight attendants in the airline’s trademark orange uniforms embroidered with a flying hammer and sickle gliding through an airport, and many new employees of both sexes seem to have been hired with young glamour in mind.

“As it was stated in court, Aeroflot’s requirements for sizes and weight are strictly in compliance with Russian law,” the company said in response to questions. “The flight attendants are not being discriminated against, as has been demonstrated in two court cases that were ruled upon in Aeroflot’s favor this month.”

Last February, when the allegations by cabin crew members were first raised publicly, Aeroflot issued a statement denying any discrimination based on age or appearance. “The claim that the expert medical commission has been instructed to remove ‘old and ugly’ cabin crew from flight duties is untrue,” the statement said.

The fight reflects the struggle throughout Russia to win equal treatment for men and women, including equal pay, said Ksenia A. Mihaylichenko, the lawyer for both women. “Only professional qualities should be counted,” she said.

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