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Air India Is Being Accused of Discriminating Against Pregnant Pilots

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Sep 13, 2021

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association has written a letter to Air India’s managing director, accusing the airline of actively discriminating against pregnant women pilots, Hindustan Times has reported.

According to the airlines’ policy, upon reporting their pregnancy, women pilots are taken off all flight duties and shifted to desk jobs. Reportedly, their pay and incentives broadly remain the same. However, the names of women pilots, who avail maternity leaves, are often misspelled or simply excluded from organizational lists. This adversely affects their seniority and denies them benefits of their service, the letter alleges.

The airline’s actions are “insulting to [women pilots] and almost makes out pregnancy as if it is a stigma or a negative marker which makes the said woman pilot ‘unfit’ or ‘not qualified or entitled’ to discharge her duties ably, shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts,” the letter notes.

The authors of the letter accused Air India of infringing upon “the constitutionally protected rights of its female pilot workforce” by resorting to pregnancy-related discrimination against expecting women professionals and violating their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, and 21 of the Constitution. “[T]herefore, [the airlines’ actions are] unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, and contrary to the judicial pronouncements on this issue,” the letter states.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Air India has been accused of sexist behavior. In fact, the airline has a long history of either patronizing women or treating them as lesser than their male counterparts.

As early as the 1980s, Air India was criticized for permitting male flight attendants to continue their service until they reached 58 years of age, but forcing their female counterparts to retire at the age of 35, or as soon as they got pregnant, or if they got married within the first four years of being in the airline’s service.

In 2004, Air India rejected applicants who had pimples or scars on their faces, from interviewing for recruitment as flight attendants. Subsequently, in 2009, it dismissed 10 female flight attendants for being “too fat to fly.” “All efforts to get them to reduce weight had failed,” Jitendra Bhargava, Air India’s spokesperson, had told BBC News.


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“It is incredibly upsetting that working women are being targeted… This is not a modeling job; we are not working a catwalk,” Sheila Joshi, a 51-year-old flight attendant with 27 years of experience, had told the media in 2015. “Now, if you are just 10 grams over, it’s goodbye… It’s ridiculous: Weight is not an infectious disease,” she added.

In 2017, Air India had announced the reservation of six seats in the economy class for female passengers of all ages traveling alone, allegedly to prevent them from being sexually harassed by male passengers. The decision elicited backlash not only because it segregated women to protect them in the same patronizing way that women are asked to cover up to prevent “undesirable advances” — but also because of the airline’s assumption that women don’t fly business class, and so seats must be reserved for them only in the economy class.

So, the airline’s treatment of pregnant women, while hardly surprising given its history, shouldn’t have any place in the 21st century — especially since it appears to be rooted in prejudice rather than in science. But since the airline has declined to comment on “such internal matters,” it’s difficult to predict whether they’re leaning towards taking reason into account or simply planning to carry on the tradition of treating their women employees poorly.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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