- Former Emirates employees say the airline has officers monitoring the weight and BMI of cabin crew.
- Internally, they are known to some as the “weight police” and can punish those deemed overweight.
- Punishments for failure to meet standards include job loss and salary reduction, some ex-staff said.
Behind the red-lipped smiles, perfectly pulled up hair, and impeccable beige uniforms, some Emirates flight attendants say they have one of the toughest jobs in the aviation industry.
The reality of working 17-hour flights from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to New Zealand is rarely captured on the social-media pages of chic jet-setters, Maya Dukaric, a former flight attendant, told Insider.
But putting on a “glamorous Emirates face” is crucial for the airline’s cabin crew, Dukaric added. Former employees said it was so important that there was an “Appearance Management Program” run by image and grooming officers dedicated to ensuring flight attendants meet the airline’s standards.
Image and uniform rules were strict, said Karla Bayson, a former Emirates flight attendant who left the airline last year. Emirates required neat hair and nail polish that was red, neutral, or clear, she said. And no one got hired with tattoos visible in uniform. The rules are communicated in an employee handbook and during onboarding training, according to interviews with six former employees, including a former human-resources business partner and a former manager.
But where Emirates appears to go further than industry norms is in its weight requirements. Former cabin crew said image and grooming officers monitored and punished flight attendants deemed overweight.
Internally at Emirates, these officers were known by some former staffers as the “weight police.”
The ‘weight police’ single out flight attendants deemed overweight, former employees say
Cabin crew members find themselves on the Appearance Management Program through two scenarios: They’re directly identified by the “weight police,” or they’re reported by their colleagues, said a former human-resources business partner who worked for Emirates for over five years and spoke on condition of anonymity.
“A culture of telling on each other to management is prevalent,” this person told Insider.
Those in the program are given diet and exercise plans and meet with HR representatives to assess their progress, the former HR partner said. Failure to make progress incurs a series of warnings, weight checks, and in some cases punishments such as pay cuts, this person said.
The program also included meetings with nutritionists and diet experts, said a former manager who worked for the airline for over 10 years and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The former manager said such cases were rare and estimated that “150 people out of 25,000” flight attendants were on the program at any given time. According to Emirates’ 2020-21 annual report, the company employed 14,372 cabin crew — 34.1% less than the previous year.
If the “weight police” spot someone needing to go up a size in uniform in less than six months, “the questions begin,” the former manager added. The identities of the former HR partner and the former manager are known to Insider. They both requested anonymity over fear of professional repercussions.
Bayson, a 36-year-old employed by the airline for nine years, said she had colleagues who received warnings about their weight and were given two weeks to “lose it.” Every two weeks, they’d be “checked again,” she added.
Dukaric said “weight police” would be present at airports and stop crew periodically to say: “Hey, babe. You need to slow it down.”
Emirates declined to comment on the appearance program, “weight police,” or other specifics in this story.
“We do not comment on internal policies or procedures or specific, confidential cases of existing or past employees,” the company said in a statement.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
Airlines take passenger and crew-member weight into account when calculating an aircraft’s overall weight
Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst at Atmosphere Research, said Emirates competed with airlines from East Asia and the Persian Gulf for passengers. These airlines, such as Singapore Air and Etihad Airways, have appearance requirements for flight attendants, he said.
Airlines in the US and many in Europe no longer have appearance requirements for flight attendants, but other international carriers view flight attendants as a marketing tool, Harteveldt said.
“Some airlines that have stricter requirements tend to be very focused on their brand,” Harteveldt said. “They view flight attendants as one of the most visible and most important representations of that brand image to the public.”
Because aircraft weight affects whether a plane can take off and how fast it can go, the US Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines to take crew-member weight into account when estimating an aircraft’s overall weight and center of gravity.
The FAA allows US airlines to conduct a survey asking crew members for their weight, and they also have the option of weighing passengers on a scale before they board an aircraft.
Harteveldt said that for a company as large as Emirates, there was “no need to weigh crew members” because the airline developed operating models using average weights for men and women.
The appearance standard Emirates uses for flight attendants “certainly does seem almost archaic from the US perspective,” he said.
Some former employees say pay cuts and job loss are ‘weight-police’ punishments
“Weight police” punishments include taking crew members off flights and job loss, some former employees told Insider.
“If they see you popping out from the uniform, they’re going to put you on the ground,” Bayson said, referring to the practice of removing employees from working on flights for a set period of time.
Duygu Karaman, a former Emirates flight attendant, told the Daily Mirror she knew of colleagues grounded with weight issues whose pay was reduced.
The former HR business partner confirmed to Insider the use of such punishments. This person said flight attendants who failed to meet the image and uniform standards in regard to weight could be suspended from flying and therefore wouldn’t receive the per-diem flying payment.
For those who continuously fail to meet target goals, the best-case scenario is “redeployment,” or a department transfer, the HR partner said. Overweight flight attendants could also be fired, Dukaric said.
“If you don’t lose in that exact period of time, you can lose your job,” Dukaric said, citing the experience of colleagues she knew. “You’re always under the stress of pressure because you always think you need to be perfect.”
One 25-year-old former flight attendant who worked for the airline for two years said the company’s policies made her fear that “if you get too fat, you’re going to get fired.”
The ‘weight police’ don’t go easy on new moms, some say
The “weight police” were strict on new mothers and would sometimes ground them until they “lose what is required,” Bayson said.
She said she experienced anxiety while pregnant in 2020 after she gained 44 pounds.
“There’s a lot of ruthlessness when it comes to trying to meet that standard,” the former HR business partner said, adding that the “weight police” didn’t go any easier on those returning from maternity leave.
The former manager said the airline gave those who went on maternity leave 180 days to lose pregnancy weight, and that crew signed a contract before departing for maternity leave acknowledging the weight requirements upon return.
“We weigh them on their last day of work, and they have to come back within a certain percentile, plus or minus of that weight,” the former manager said.
“A lot of them believe they are not going to
after pregnancy,” this person said.
A maternity-leave contract viewed by Insider did not outline specific weight requirements in writing but said employees must meet image and uniform standards per the “Uniform Standards Manual including attaining a healthy BMI” before returning to work.
Weight requirements are meant to ensure good health, some say
Public information on Emirates’ weight policy is sparse. A bullet point on its hiring page says candidates must be “physically fit for this demanding role with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).”
Dubai, where the airline is based, doesn’t offer non-UAE nationals free healthcare, so Emirates pays medical expenses for cabin crew who have health complications.
“If your BMI is above what you should be, then you become a danger for yourself and a danger for us,” the former manager said. “What if you have a heart attack, and we have to deter the plane to another destination? Who is going to be bearing the $100,000 it’s going to cost?”
Medical experts say BMI isn’t an effective measure of an individual’s health, however. The metric doesn’t differentiate between weight from fat, muscle, or bone, for example, and it’s a poor indicator of metabolic health.
Cabin crew members are informed of appearance requirements during the hiring process, former crew members said.
But the language of the rules — in both the cabin-crew contract and the image-and-uniform training — is somewhat vague, the former HR business partner said.
“All the policies are written in a very gray manner,” this person said. “Image and uniform could mean your weight. It could mean your shoes are not polished. It could mean you didn’t get a haircut.”
Emirates’ image standards are obvious from day one on the job
Filipa Pereira, a former Emirates flight attendant who worked for the airline for eight years and resigned in September, said the airline’s focus on fitness and image was evident from her first day.
Pereira, who is originally from Portugal, told Insider that when she flew to Prague for Emirates’ open day, when the company scouts prospective employees, she noticed a common appearance in the flight attendants who attended.
“Emirates girls that attend the open day, they are all spotless,” she said. “They are the first face that we see from Emirates, and they are already elegant, fit.”
She said weight checks were periodically carried out on all cabin crew during her time at the company.
“I remember the last time I was weighted, it was before going for a promotion,” Pereira, 35, said. “They checked all the uniform, plus my weight.”
When asked if there was an explanation for why the weight check was necessary, Pereira told Insider it was to ensure “image and uniform” requirements passed.
Keeping to Emirates’ weight requirements can difficult, Dukaric said. She was 5-foot-7 and about 121 pounds when she started. Within seven months, she gained 17 pounds.
“You are traveling from one time zone to another,” she said. “You cannot go hungry” when you’re exhausted, and your bodies are confused from the time changes, she added.
She said it was common for flight attendants to gain weight and become targets for the “weight police” but that Emirates taught flight attendants about the importance of keeping healthy.
“Behind all these glamorous, lovey-dovey things of Emirates, there are a lot of regulations that you need to follow,” Dukaric said.
Allana Akhtar contributed to this report.