Air India Express cabin crew. Photo courtesy Air India.

Questions for the hypocritical Air India cabin crew union

The fact that the cabin crew and their unions are a law unto themselves running roughshod over national carrier Air India is a well known fact. The political power and connections of the crew and its union is demonstrated by the fact that the airline management meekly submits to them, and terminations are practically non-existent even in the most glaring of violations.

About a week ago, India’s civil aviation regulator the DGCA made it mandatory for all cabin crew to undergo medical examinations on a periodic basis to ensure they are fit to fly and not overweight. The national carrier is the most affected airline by this decision. About 25 percent of its 3,500 cabin crew are over the age of 50 which entails annual checks, and another 15% are over 40 which requires screening one every two years. It is also estimated that about 600 cabin crew, about 17 percent, fail the Body Mass Index (BMI) weight check.

Naturally the All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) which represents the Air India cabin crew is all bent out of shape. The union via its president, Ashwin Ullalkar, has written to the DGCA challenging its very authority.

“Till the cabin crew are not licensed in accordance with your own civil aviation requirements (CAR) of March 2010 as applicable to licensed categories (like pilots), we cannot be governed by the DGCA or its requirements and will continue to follow the bilaterals entered into by us and Air India,”

Yet, this same union conveniently accepts and expects enforcement of DGCA rules when its suits them. In April the union had complained the crew were getting inadequate rest, a topic mandated by the very same DGCA whose authority the union is challenging today. Why the double standards Mr. Ullalkar?

Second. As an over-weight person, I am denied the use of the emergency exit row which affords greater leg-room. Why you might ask? Apparently the safety rules require that I do not use an extension seat belt when seated in an emergency exit row, which I am unable to do in Asia, since airlines make their seat-belts shorter that to smaller physical sizes here. I am fine in Europe and North America. If the union can accept the premise that an over-weight person cannot sit in the emergency exit row due to potential safety risks, why do they not accept that some of their over-weight members could also be a safety risk?

I believe most Air India cabin crew are highly dedicated and competent professionals. I feel more reassured to fly with them than the “eye candy” on other private domestic airlines, but hypocrisy is something I cannot stomach. The age-old debate on the exact role of cabin crew and therefore their physical expectations continues.

Share your thoughts via a comment. But please for heaven’s sake do not make a vague comment that we do not know the politics behind the scene. We admit we do not know. Please enlighten us and offer a solution.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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  1. I am surprised that cabin crew are not licensed by the DGCA. However, they maybe considered as supernumerary (I am pushing the definition a little) staff and as such they are subject to DGCA requirements as it pertains to safety and security. The US labor laws prohibit discrimination due to weight or age, and as long as the cabin crew pass their medical checks and recurrent courses, they are retained.
    I agree, in any case one cannot cherry pick regulations to suit their interests.

  2. The union culture is a plague of the Airline Industry. Good that AirIndia got rid of one pilots union. DGCA guys should act smart and change the terminology. A mandatory safety requirement that necessitates the crew to evacuate passengers in 90 secs (in a simulated emergency like can be a criterion for filtering fit and agile people every few months. Thai Airways uses this to demote unfit crew. That will be a sensible solution instead of issuing these BMI measures which can easily be taken on legally.