Air India’s decision to check grooming and measure the body mass index (BMI) of cabin crew members at the airports through grooming assistants or non-medical practitioners has kicked up a storm with the cabin crew of the airlines objecting to it as “dehumanising and a violation of DGCA rules”.

“This process of weighing-scale checks at airports dehumanises and denigrates our cabin crew, apart from violating working conditions,” the letter by the Air India Joint Action Forum of Unions says adding that it was objecting to BMI measures being done by non-medical practitioners.

The objections have been conveyed to the new Chairman and Managing Director of the airlines along with other senior officials that include the executive director of the airline’s inflight services department (ISD).

BusinessLine has a copy of the letter. Air India declined to comment on the matter.

Alleged violation of service conditions

The new rule, as per a January 20 internal circular, mandates “grooming associates” to record BMI management/grooming /uniform turnout of cabin crew when they report for a flight or standby duty. These observations must be compiled and sent to the requisite authority office. Each cabin crew shall be observed or assessed once on quarterly basis.

A high BMI is typically indicative of increased body fat, but BMI is not always considered to be the best indicator of health. The cabin crew unions call the decision a unilateral violation of service conditions.

 “The Circular no: IFS/HQ-22/115-10 dated 20/1/22 on grooming and BMI Checks by grooming associates at Airport CCMCOs (cabin crew movement control offices) has unilaterally altered the service conditions of the cabin crew to their prejudice and in violation of many rules/laws,” the letter said.

The current service conditions provide for BMI checks to be conducted by doctors at Air India clinics, as does DGCA Civil Aviation Rules (CAR). Crew members say they are already subjected to such BMI checks for over 15 years now.

They are not objecting to BMI checks, as long as these checks are conducted in the “privacy of Air India clinic” and by medical doctors.

“The DGCA as a regulatory authority mandates the conduct of any BMI-medical checks as per the CAR, only by medical practitioners. This conduct of such BMI checks at airports by non-medical “grooming associates” also breaches the CAR, apart from violating settled service conditions & Court orders,” the letter adds.

Handover on Jan 27

The controversy comes days before the Centre completes the divestment process of Air India and hands it over to the Tata Group. The handover is expected to take place on January 27.

Cabin crew unions in their letter point out that the new rule is in violation of the shareholder purchase agreement between Air India and Tatas, which says that all employee service conditions shall continue for the first year of transfer. There is also an interim relief that has been granted to Air India employees in respect of their service conditions, benefits, job protection and so on.

Calling for amending the “offending clause”, the joint action forum has said failure to do so would lead to it taking legal recourse.