National carrier Singapore Airlines expects its flight attendants to have a body mass index (BMI) within a certain range, and those who exceed it will be given time on the ground to get back in shape, it said.
It was responding to queries from The Sunday Times on weight issues among cabin crew, following a recent incident in which Malaysia Airlines (MAS) allegedly sacked flight attendants for being overweight.
"While there are a small number of crew members who do not meet the healthy BMI range, there are no clear trends to highlight an increase in such cases," said SIA.
The airline, which focuses on BMI rather than weight, said such crew members will be "given time on (the) ground to focus on their health and to receive guidance on healthy weight management". This ensures they are able to meet the physical demands of their duties, it added.
According to media reports, the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia said five MAS cabin crew members were sacked for being overweight - despite having served the airline for over two decades - and more are expected to have their services terminated.
The union noted it as a case of discrimination, and said the Employment Act does not allow for employees to be sacked for such reasons.
Instead of weight requirements, some airlines have guidelines that encourage flight attendants to maintain a healthy BMI, an indicator of whether someone is the appropriate weight for his height. The airlines do not encounter cases of crew not meeting the range often.
Scoot, the SIA-owned long-haul low-cost carrier, said such guidelines are shared with cabin crew members during their grooming training when they join the company. It said this ensures "our crew are healthy and fit to carry out their duties, as cabin crew work can be physically strenuous".
Manpower experts said the job can be demanding, with flight attendants having to push meal carts, stow bags in overhead cabins and be on their feet most of the time.
Mr Paul Heng, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, said it is good practice to give staff a reasonable period of time to "fall in line". "If the employee can be seen to have tried hard, then the management could be reasonably expected to extend the period to encourage the employee," he added.
But the termination of an employee's services due to weight is not good human resources practice and is largely frowned upon, say observers. "The only exception I can think of is when the job is customer-facing and being overweight does not portray the right image for the company," said Mr Heng, citing airlines as an example.
Observers felt it was acceptable for airlines to have requirements for flight attendants to have a certain physique, in order to be able to carry out their duties.
Mr David Leong, managing director of PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said: "The aisle of the plane is constrained, and any large-bodied person will have a manoeuvrability issue along the aisle."
Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore, suggested that those who need time to shed the extra kilograms can be temporarily deployed in another role. "Unless the individual's weight is hindering his or her ability to perform, weight should not form the basis for the termination of employment," she said.