We’ve come a long way, baby! Or have we?

securedownloadI don’t know what you do for a living, but imagine if I told you I needed your Body Mass Index, or BMI, to decide whether or not you were fit to do your job — a job you were doing every day, a job nobody had complained about.

You might say that was ridiculous. You might even call me sexist when it became clear I was measuring mostly the women, and less so the men.

That would be crazy, right?

Of course, that wouldn’t happen at your job. Why? Because we’ve come a long way, baby.

Unless, of course, you’re a flight attendant. Particularly a flight attendant in India, where about130 Air India flight attendants have been grounded or forced to retire because they were deemed unfit to fly. Unfit to fly — because their BMI was “too high.”

In case you missed it, India’s aviation authority is requiring female flight attendants to have a BMI between 18 and 22. If it’s higher than 22, the crew have a limited amount of time to bring it down — or they will no longer be able to fly. (For men, the scale is higher, with 18 to 25 considered OK.)

Now, never mind that a “healthy” BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9 for both men and women, according to several authorities. And never mind that using BMI alone to measure health has been criticized because it fails to take into account an individual’s build.

Air India claims flight attendants with a high BMI move slower, and won’t be able to react quickly enough in an evacuation: “It’s a safety issue,” an Air India spokesman told CNN. “The crew has to be fit to be able to carry out their inflight duties, including emergencies.”

But safety is not about BMI. As a flight attendant in the U.S., I go back to recurrent trainingevery year, and have to pass tests on our evacuation drills and medical procedures. If we can’t open the door or remember our commands and procedures we won’t pass.

Call me crazy, but I have a feeling some of our larger flight attendants might have an easier time dragging an unconscious passenger to an emergency door in the event of an evacuation than our teeny tiny ones — but they’re capable, too. I can still remember, when Asiana Flight 214 crash landed in San Francisco, seeing video of a petite Asiana flight attendant giving passengers piggyback rides to safety. The point is crew should be certified they can handle an emergency — not that they can fit in a specific dress size.

I can’t help but wonder if the focus on BMI is about something else entirely — a way to address another issue.

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Heather Poole View All →

Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...

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