MOSCOW -- Once the butt of jokes about its atrocious safety record and awful service, Russian state-owned airline Aeroflot is now widely regarded as a leading global carrier.
But Aeroflot's latest attempt to burnish its image is being opposed by veteran flight attendants who say they are being sidelined in the company over their age and appearance.
The attendants -- who mockingly dub themselves the STS in abbreviated Russian for "old, fat, ugly"-- claim they are being barred from international flights, which in turn denies them higher wages.
The group has written to President Vladimir Putin, appealed to the prosecutor's office, and even filed suit against Aeroflot over alleged discrimination.
"They told us all that only the young and thin will fly abroad for Aeroflot," Aeroflot flight attendant Yevgenia Magurina told RFE/RL's Russian Service.
Contacted by RFE/RL's Russian Service for this story, Aeroflot's press service did not comment.
Magurina has been part of cabin crews for 15 years -- seven of them for Aeroflot, where she was eventually promoted to a senior cabin crew member on international flights.
Since August, however, she says she has only been allowed to fly on the least coveted of Aeroflot routes inside Russia because of unwritten company rules saying she is now not thin enough to get the good jobs.
"We were all photographed en masse and measured -- some were even weighed," Magurina said. "This was done under the pretext of company rebranding and ordering new uniforms for staff."
She said that while "my life changed in the middle of August...many suffered before that."
About 400 flight attendants have reportedly been affected by the airline's new criteria.
Yevgenia Magurina has 15 years of flight experience. (file photo)
"They stopped putting anyone on international flights if they are older than 40 or take more than a size 48," Magurina said.
Magurina said they are given only shifts on night flights or short morning flights, meaning they cannot sleep properly. “When I asked what's going on, they told me these are the new rules of the game and that I was removed from international flights because of my clothes size -- it mustn’t be more than a 46, and I'm a 48."
'Fainting From Hunger'
Igor Deldyuzhov, the president of a Sheremetyevo Airport trade union, cited many complaints of discrimination over age and appearance but suggested that the majority of flight attendants don't go to court because they have small children or mortgages and fear losing their jobs.
Natalya, 42, who declined to use her surname, said she recalled flight attendants desperately trying to lose weight in order to keep their international flight work and the higher salary that goes with it.
"Stewardesses were fainting from hunger at the dispatcher's office as they tried to meet the new criteria, but even if they managed to lose the weight they were told, 'You still wouldn't get to fly to the United States or Dominican Republic because you're a little old,'" she said.
"Do you know how humiliating it is when they weigh you like some kind of cow?" she asked.
Written by Tom Balmforth based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service