Accessibility links

Breaking News

Aeroflot Stewardesses Continue Battle Against 'Lookism'

Although courts of first instance have rejected their discrimination suits against the Russian national air carrier Aeroflot, aggrieved stewardesses Irina Iyerusalimskaya and Yevgenia Margurina have no intention of giving up their fight.

And while the self-proclaimed leaders of a group of nearly 500 female Aeroflot flight attendants who have lost bonus payments for not meeting standards on size, age, or appearance are waiting for appeals courts to hear their cases, they have taken the matter to the court of public opinion.

They have launched an online petition asking Aeroflot customers to support their cause that garnered 1,000 signatures in its first five days.

"I regularly fly Aeroflot," one signer wrote in the comments section. "And I want to continue flying with them. And I want to fly in safety, with professionals -- not with some dolls flirting with men."

Another supporter noticed that Aeroflot's entire board of directors is composed of men and suggested that they be replaced when they reach 40 -- or immediately if they have beer bellies.

"I am against lookism and bodyshaming," a third signatory wrote. "Women were not created to please the eyes of male passengers, whose attitudes can clearly be seen by some of the comments here."

Aeroflot flight attendant Yevgenia Magurina at a court hearing in April in Moscow.
Aeroflot flight attendant Yevgenia Magurina at a court hearing in April in Moscow.

A significant number of comments on the petition are from unsympathetic men arguing along the lines that "a pretty stewardess is part of the pleasant experience of flying."

Iyerusalimskaya and Margurina made headlines in February when they filed their suits, alleging discrimination because of Aeroflot's rules penalizing female flight attendants deemed too "old, fat, or ugly."

"They told us that only the young and thin will fly abroad for Aeroflot," Magurina said at the time. Aeroflot flight attendants earn lucrative bonuses for working international flights. And, according to company's regulations, female attendants wearing dress size 48 or larger or those over the age of 40 are relegated to domestic flights.

They told RFE/RL that all flight attendants were compelled last August to be photographed, weighed, and measured -- ostensibly because the company was ordering new uniforms. On the basis of those sessions, flight attendants were approved or disqualified from working international flights.

The 480 who found themselves disqualified mockingly dubbed themselves the STS -- the Russian abbreviation for the words "old, fat, and ugly."

In April, two separate Moscow courts rejected the lawsuits, in which the plaintiffs sought to have the rules annulled, as well as compensation for lost remuneration and damages. A court rejected Iyerusalimskaya's complaint, saying it was filed too long after the rules took effect. A separate court rejected Magurina's case, saying that it is not the court's role to determine whether discrimination has occurred. This ruling surprised lawyer Ksenia Mikhailichenko, who is representing both women.

"In the Labor Code it is written that in cases of discrimination, the fact of discrimination is established by the courts," Mikhailichenko told RFE/RL. "But the court now says, 'no.' My question for the court is where is discrimination to be determined, if not in the courts?"

In Magurina's case, Aeroflot lawyers brought to court a document claiming that each additional kilogram of stewardess costs the carrier 759 rubles ($12.70) a year.

Their appeals are set for July and August.

Nonetheless, Magurina told RFE/RL's Russian Service she believes the suits have prompted Aeroflot to act. She said that while previously the airline had blacklisted some 480 female flight attendants from working the lucrative routes, now some 120 of them have been "rehabilitated, as our leaders like to say."

"Next to their names there are interesting notes such as 'occasionally exceeds the weight norm' or 'is working on her image,'" Magurina said. "They were photographed again and their list of eligible destinations was expanded."

Magurina said she personally has been requalified for flights to some foreign destinations like Tbilisi and Baku. Iyerusalimskaya remains restricted to Russia.

Stewardesses Irina Iyerusalimskaya (left) and Yevgenia Margurina
Stewardesses Irina Iyerusalimskaya (left) and Yevgenia Margurina

Lawyer Mikhailicheko said that the Aeroflot matter is significant for Russia, which has the legal concept of discrimination but proving actual cases has been difficult.

"We do not have special rules for proving discrimination, which is a lapse in our Criminal Procedural Code," she said. "In Europe and the United States, the burden of proof lies with the employer [to demonstrate there was no discrimination]. Although in several countries the court can divide the burden between the employer and the employee. Here, the entire burden is with the employee and this makes things very hard. The employee doesn't have access to documents and it is practically impossible to call witnesses because fellow employees are reluctant to testify against their employers."

Moreover, she added, Russian courts routinely award very small sums in damages in discrimination cases, making process of proving discrimination even less appealing.

Magurina remains determined, however.

"If we are not able to settle this question in [Russia], then we will just have to turn to the European Court of Human Rights," she said.

(Written in Prague by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service.)

Original story in Russian