Two men with ties to Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline, turned what should have been a mundane press conference in Moscow on Tuesday into an odd commentary on women’s bodies, with one asserting that “the appearance of its employees” is a selling point for passengers
Two flight attendants for Aeroflot appeared before the press to discuss their age and sex discrimination lawsuit against the company. Evgeniya Magurina and Irina Ierusalimskaya said they’d been barred from international flights because of their larger clothing sizes, a move that meant they lost a significant portion of their pay.
Magurina claimed that all Aeroflot flight attendants were photographed, measured, and—in some cases—weighed last year. Women whose bodies didn’t meet the requirements—the plaintiffs say the cutoff was a Russian size 48 or U.S. size 14—were yanked from international routes. About 600 Aeroflot attendants were reportedly affected.
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“We have had our salary lowered due to our clothing size. We are allowed to fly, but our salary is lowered,” Magurina said, according to The Guardian.
Both Magurina and Ierusalimskaya have lost their cases against the airline. They called the news conference on Tuesday to announce their appeals.
Aeroflot has called their allegations baseless and has stated that it never discriminated on the basis of appearance, age, or weight. A lawyer for the airline argued in court that heavier employees are a safety concern since they could slow down emergency evacuations.
But the two men, both of whom sit on Aeroflot’s 25-person public council, seemed to undercut that argument on Tuesday.
Pavel Danilin said Aeroflot is “a premium airline” and one reason its passengers buy tickets “is the appearance of its employees.” He referenced a passenger survey that showed “92% want to see stewardesses who fit into the clothes sizes we are talking about here.”
Another member of the council, Nikita Krichevsky, accused the women of “trying to blacken the name of the state air company,” and said the women should be grateful that the company cares about their wellbeing. Noting his own recent weight loss, he said the requirements should be seen as an incentive to get healthy, not as a penalty.
Things got personal when Krichesvsky claimed Magurina had bragged about her body during court hearings, The New York Times reports. “She said she had big breasts which served her well throughout her life, and more recently started doing her a disservice,” he said. According to the Times, the two women shook their heads in apparent disbelief, but did not respond directly.
Aeroflot, once the Soviet national airline, has in recent years taken steps to shed its grim past by acquiring new planes and by improving its customer service. It released a statement on Tuesday that seemed to distance itself from Danilin, a journalist, and Krichevsky, an economist. It said the men took part in the press conference “on their own initiative” and were “expressing their personal opinions.”
The Guardian reports that Aeroflot’s public council includes five women and 20 men; the airline says its purpose is to “[explain] Aeroflot’s positions to a wide audience.” According to its website, Aeroflot’s 11-person management board and its 11-person board of directors are made up entirely of men.
A PwC survey of female business leaders in Russia in 2013 found that nearly half—49%—of their companies had zero female board members.
Ksenia Mihaylichenko, the lawyer for the two flight attendants, said the legal case is indicative of the larger struggle in Russia to win equal treatment and equal pay for women. Only women’s professional qualities, not their physical appearance, “should be counted,” she said.