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Delta Responds to Charges of Fat Phobia

July 19, 2009

A few days ago, I learned via Feministing that the Northwest Airlines flight attendants’ union, following their airline’s merger with Delta, had filed a complaint regarding a style of uniform designed to catch the eye being available only up to size 28. I contacted the airline and today received the following reply (interspersed with my own commentary):

Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.

With Richard Tyler’s guidance and expertise, we created the largest uniform collection in the airline industry – a collection that is flattering and functional, offering a variety of choices for everyone.

If the intent was to offer a variety of choice for everyone, wouldn’t it be logical to offer each option in all sizes? Or are we supposed to believe that red isn’t flattering or functional for plus-sized women? This still sounds fat-phobic to me, as if attention-getting colors don’t flatter larger women because such women are not supposed to be noticed.

The overwhelming majority of pre-merger Northwest flight attendants are excited to wear the Richard Tyler Collection after more than a decade in their old uniform.

No one ever said they didn’t want to wear this collection. This is fundamentally about equal access to styles in the collection. Why not spread the excitement?

Our uniform policies for the Richard Tyler Collection have been in place since 2006 and the program has been very successful at Delta. In fact, the sizing of our red dress has not been an issue with Delta flight attendants since the program’s inception three years ago. These are typical union campaign tactics leading up to an election.

Actually, this sounds like a typical management tactic: play the “good” employees (in this case the existing Delta flight attendants) off against the “bad” ones (the Northwest flight attendants who want equal treatment regardless of body size).

The argument that no one had a problem with it before isn’t relevant either. Maybe Delta didn’t have any flight attendants over the red dress’s size limit, or none of those who were cared: that doesn’t mean that now that someone has noticed it is a moot issue. If it did, nothing in society would ever change because there is always a first person to object to an injustice. Besides, the airline cannot be certain that no one objected before: it may be that they simply didn’t feel safe to speak out.

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  1. Stephanie Vanek Heyman permalink
    July 20, 2009 1:39 pm

    If someone cannot fit into a size 28, chances are they cannot fit on a double jumpseat next to another flt attendant, probably can’t get through the aisles without their hips hitting shoulders along the way, and sould have problems getting on their hands and knees to perform CPR in an aisle. I believe the FAA would have a field day with this!! As a newly retired Delta F/A with 25 years of service, either lose some weight (after all, this is what you agreed to when you got hired 30 years ago!) or pick the skirt with the blouse you don’t have to tuck in….stay away from the red dress.

    • July 20, 2009 2:56 pm

      Stephanie, this isn’t an issue about job performance at all. If a woman couldn’t perform the job, she would be unable to pass the initial training and would not be hired or, if she became unable to perform the job, she would be fired. Last I checked, employers don’t deal with incompetent employees (of any size) by reducing uniform choices. (And if this were for some bizarre reason the way Delta dealt with it, then why is it only the larger women, and not the larger men, who are given fewer options?) I’m pretty sure the FAA has better things to do than worry about plus-size women wearing red, too.

      Incidentally, thirty years ago when my mother tried to apply for a flight attendant position, she was told she was five pounds over the weight limit for her height. When she went to her university’s student health center to ask if they could help her with that, they informed her that she should under no circumstances lose weight as she was already slightly under a healthy level. Do you really want to live by those standards?

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