Grounded for going up a dress size: confessions of Emirates cabin crew

Staff who fell below cosmetic standards were enrolled in ‘Appearance Management Programme’

Lucy Thackray
Monday 24 January 2022 15:25 GMT
<p>Cabin crew must adhere to strict image rules, staff say</p>

Cabin crew must adhere to strict image rules, staff say

Emirates flight attendants have their weight monitored by airline bosses and can be suspended for being overweight, former employees of the airline have claimed.

Describing the airline authorities as “the weight police”, former cabin crew members say their weight was tracked by bosses who put some employees into an “Appearance Management Programme” if they went up a dress size.

Staff are reportedly told this is to ensure they are putting on a “glamorous Emirates face” at all times.

Ex-staff also allege that they were threatened with pay cuts if they did not keep up with the UAE-based airline’s image policy.

Karla Bayson, 36, who worked for Emirates for nine years until 2021, told Insider that this policy included no tattoos visible while in uniform, only red, clear or neutral nail polish and neat hair at all times. All pretty standard for customer-facing airline staff.

What was less standard, Bayson said, was seeing colleagues who had put on weight being told by bosses to “lose it." She claims that every two weeks after a warning, they’d be “checked again” to see that they had dropped the extra pounds.

She also told reporters that some staff were suspended from inflight duties for gaining weight.

“If they see you popping out from the uniform, they’re going to put you on the ground,” she said.

Bayson claimed the airline was strict on women who had given birth, sometimes grounding them until they “lose what is required”.

She says she suffered from anxiety when pregnant in 2020, as she had gained 44 lbs (20kg).

Another anonymous Emirates source told the website that it’s common for staff to “inform” on each other regarding weight gain.

“A culture of telling on each other to management is prevalent,” said the source, a former HR business partner who worked there for five years.

Those in the Appearance Management Programme have regular meetings scheduled with HR advisers, the source said, while being given diet and exercise plans to follow.

If the weight is not lost quickly, they claimed, flight attendants are subject to a series of warnings, weight checks and even pay cuts.

The allegations were backed up by another anonymous source who said they had worked for the airline for 10 years.

They said that the airline tracks cabin crew who need to go up a uniform size - if this happens within six months or under, “the questions begin”.

This source estimated that only around “150 people out of 25,000” were on the programme at any given time.

Another ex flight attendant, Maya Dukaric, claims that “weight police” staff would approach some crew members at airports, saying, “Hey, babe. You need to slow it down.”

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Insider that, while most European and US airlines had dropped official image policies, several airlines across the world still see flight attendants as part of their marketing strategy, leading to strict appearance guidelines.

“Some airlines that have stricter requirements tend to be very focused on their brand,” he said.

“They view flight attendants as one of the most visible and most important representations of that brand image to the public.”

Though the Emirates website doesn’t give any public-facing information about its appearance policy, it does state in its hiring guidelines that cabin crew should be “physically fit for this demanding role with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)”, as well as stating that women having to wear heels and “a full face of make-up”.

In September 2021, Duygu Karaman told the Mirror that she quit her job with the airline in 2019 after the “strict” and “upsetting” weight monitoring by the airline.

After a member of staff complained that she was “too heavy”, Karaman claims that she was asked to lose weight, and then monitored for a year to check that she had kept the weight off.

A spokesperson for Emirates told The Independent: “As a global airline, we treat the wellbeing of our employees with the highest priority, and we believe being fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, is a critical aspect in them carrying out their duties safely and effectively.

“It may not always be apparent to our customers, but the responsibilities of our cabin crew are vast, and their ability to influence and achieve safe outcomes when needed, requires extensive training and a minimum standard of physical fitness.

“We’re proud of our colleagues who form Emirates’ cabin crew: who provide unwavering, exceptional service and who help maintain the safety and quality of operations and service Emirates is known for. We do not comment on internal policies or procedures or specific, confidential cases of existing or past employees”.

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