News Analysis

Saturday 23 August 2014

Sky not the limit when it comes to body odour

Published 14/11/2012 | 17:00

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I ALWAYS thought the main asset required to become a pilot was – apart from a decent brain – 20/20 vision. Apparently I was wrong. China's fourth largest airline, Hainan Airlines, requires all its applicants to undergo a 'sniff test'.

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This is actually as base as it seems. The airline has stipulated that it will not hire pilots that have bad body odour. And so, potential pilots are forced to raise their arms in the air, while the recruiters lean in and have a good sniff of their armpits.

It seems strange that the recruiters would care so much about how their pilots smell. Don't pilots spend most of their time locked in the cockpit, away from passengers' sensitive noses? But as a Hainan Airlines tester explained: "Our staff works very closely with the public, and no passenger wants to smell a pilot's armpits. And if they can keep their cool in this test, they aren't going to sweat in the cockpit."

While this all seems relatively superficial, body odour can be a serious problem for lots of employers and indeed employees. When I worked in France, I shared an office with another woman. One January she decided to join a gym to lose weight.

She went to an exercise class at lunch time and when she came back from the gym. . . well, the only way I can describe it is, you could smell her coming from the car park. As it was snowing outside, opening the window in our small office was not an option. I spent the first few afternoons that January drowning myself in perfume to try to counteract the smell.

A few days later our boss came into the office after lunch and stopped dead in his tracks. He glared at my colleague and said (my translation is word for word): "You stink. Go home. Shower and get some strong deodorant."

I waited for my colleague to freak out and throw the book at him for inappropriate behaviour. But she just shrugged, went home, and came back smelling fragrant. Problem solved.

A similar situation happened to a friend of mine who worked in a small office in Dublin. One of her employees, let's call her 'Jane', had a very bad body odour problem. My friend, all too aware of the sensitive nature of the topic, skirted around the issue for months.

When I told my friend about my French boss's approach, she was incredulous. "I can't do that. Poor Jane would be so hurt." I agreed with her, the French way was brutal. . . but it was effective. It's the age-old dilemma, is it better to rip a plaster off or pull it off slowly?

However, while I think the Chinese airline approach is extreme and my French boss's handling of the situation was harsh. . . I do understand where they are coming from.

Irish Independent

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