In Moscow on Tuesday, two men on the public council of Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot, turned what should have been a mundane press conference into an odd commentary on women’s bodies, with one man asserting that “the appearance of its employees” is a selling point for Aeroflot’s passengers.
The press conference was called by two Aeroflot flight attendants who sued the company for age and sex discrimination. Evgeniya Magurina and Irina Ierusalimskaya said they’d been barred from working on international flights because of their larger clothing sizes, a move that cost them a significant portion of their pay.
Magurina claimed that all Aeroflot flight attendants were photographed, measured, and, in some cases, weighed last year. The 600 or so women whose bodies didn’t meet the requirements—allegedly equivalent to a U.S. size 14—were yanked from international routes.
Magurina and Ierusalimskaya lost their case against the airline and on Tuesday vowed to appeal.
Aeroflot has stated that it never discriminates on the basis of appearance, age, or weight.
But the two members of Aeroflot’s public council seemed to undercut that argument when they interrupted the news conference on Tuesday.
Pavel Danilin said one reason Aeroflot sells tickets “is the appearance of its employees,” referring to a passenger survey that showed “92% want to see stewardesses who fit into the clothes sizes we are talking about here.”
Another member of Aeroflot’s public council, Nikita Krichevsky—who at one point referenced Magurina’s “large breasts”—said that the requirements are an incentive to get healthy, not a penalty.
Aeroflot, 51%-owned by the Russian government, distanced itself from Danilin and Krichevsky on Tuesday, stating that they took part in the press conference “on their own initiative” and were “expressing their personal opinions.”
The Guardian reports that Aeroflot’s public council—five women and 20 men—is intended is to “[explain] Aeroflot’s positions to a wide audience.”
Aeroflot’s 11-person management board and its 11-person board of directors are made up entirely of men, which is—shockingly—quite common in Russia. A 2013 PwC survey of female business leaders there found that 49% of their companies had zero female board members.
Once the Soviet national airline, Aeroflot has recently taken steps to modernize by acquiring new planes and improving its customer service, but Tuesday’s press conference sent it speeding backward in time.
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