Spain’s Ministry of Labor has launched an investigation after a group of female flight attendant hopefuls were ordered to strip down to their underwear so that recruiters could physically check them for scars, birthmarks, tattoos and other ‘unacceptable’ marks or defects.
The alleged incident occurred at a hotel in Madrid which was hosting an open recruitment event for Kuwait Airways but organised by a third-party agency, according to several of the victims who shared their stories of what happened with Spain’s El Diario.
The victims had gone to Madrid’s Meliá Barajas hotel close to the city’s main airport on November 5, 2022, where the Gulf-based recruitment agency Meccti had hired out conference rooms for what was, essentially, an open casting call for budding flight attendants.
Open casting is a fairly common practice amongst Persian Gulf airlines, where recruiters make whistlestop tours in cities around the world looking for the ‘right’ candidate. Some airlines only recruit female flight attendants, and recruiters are even sometimes given a list of physical attributes to look for.
In this case, one of the victims told El Diario that shortlisted candidates had been called into a room one by one, where they were told to strip down to their underwear so that recruiters could examine their bodies.
A 23-year-old victim, who has been identified only as ‘Bianca’, said during the initial assessment that some candidates were looked over and cast aside because the recruiter didn’t like their smile or because they had pimples.
She recalled how one of the recruiters ordered her to open her mouth and “looked inside as if I were a dog, he almost put his eye in my mouth to see my teeth”.
Bianca says the candidates who made it through the initial cull were then called into a room one by one where a female recruiter looked over them. The recruiter asked Bianca to raise her dress further up her legs but when she only lifted it to knee level, the recruiter lifted it all the way to her panties.
“The dress had a zipper on the back and she asked me to lower it to my waist,” Bianca continued. “I stayed in a bra. She said it was to see that we didn’t have scars, birthmarks, tattoos.”
Another 23-year-old victim called, Mariana said young talented women were turned away because they had moles or tiny facial scars. Another was turned away because she wore glasses, and another because she had braces.
In the opaque world of flight attendant recruitment, getting rejected for having the ‘wrong look’ is widely believed to be commonplace, but it is incredibly rare for recruiters to verbalise these reasons for rejection.
Most airlines no longer require scar or tattoo checks in areas not otherwise visible while wearing the airline uniform. Even airlines that recruit overseas won’t carry out these kinds of physical checks in a third country due to varying employment laws.
In this case, the Spanish Ministry of Labor has already opened an investigation and could refer the matter to the prosecutor’s office.
Joaquín Pérez Rey, the minister of labor, has described what happened at the recruitment event as “intolerable behavior” that ” violates the dignity and fundamental rights of these women.”
“It incurs discrimination in access to employment, and collects data that is absolutely irrelevant to the selection process,” Rey continued.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.