Air India ordered to rehire overweight flight attendants

An Indian court has ordered a state-run Air India to rehire an airline hostess that the carrier had sacked nearly a decade ago for being overweight.

Dismissed overweight women have previously unsuccessfully challenged Air India's policy in Indian courts, which upheld clauses in the group's employment contracts.

Neepa Dhar, 44, joined the carrier as an airline attendant in 1987 but was grounded in 1997 due to her weight and finally dismissed in 2001.

The Calcutta High Court told the airline on Friday to pay all Dhar's earnings owing since 2001 and to assign her to ground duty.

The airline declared Dhar unfit to work as a flight attendant after she became overweight from medication taken to treat "high altitude anxiety syndrome", her lawyer told the court.

The court ruling came days after Air India voluntarily invited back 10 former flight hostesses it dismissed last year for being overweight as it sought to overcome a severe shortage of cabin crew.

Three had said they would be willing to come back, an airline spokesman said, but added the weight limits still applied - they are calculated on height and age - and that the women would have to be more svelte if they re-applied for their old jobs.

"We are not relaxing our standards," the spokesman told AFP.

The crisis-hit airline has faced protests from passengers in recent weeks over severe delays to its flights caused by a shortage of cabin crew and endemic absenteeism.

The Hindustan Times newspaper has reported the loss-making group, which is seeking a fresh government bailout, will run out of cash soon and be unable to pay staff after March.