Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just Plane Confused

In the early 1970's, flight attendants (then referred to as "stewardesses") who worked for Southwest Airlines dressed like this:

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines' girls flight attendants skipped around teevee screens, singing:

We're here to make you happy,
We're out to make you pleased,
You're flying Continental,
Your flight will be a breeze.
We'll help to make you happy,
We'll skip to prove it's true,
On Continental Airlines We Move Our Tails For You!
We really move our tails for you,
We make your every wish come true,
Fly Continental Airlines,
We really move our tails for you!

And at Singapore Airlines, the message was even less subtle--Singapore Girl—You're a great way to fly! The iconic Singapore Girl, also known as "Asia's Barbie", has held on despite pesky feminist complaints lo these many years, though changes, apparently, are in the works:

Despite her success, critics complain the Singapore Girl concept is sexist, outmoded and largely intended to serve male passengers' fantasies of desirable, subservient Oriental women.

The Straits Times once quoted a Qantas Airways chairman referring to the campaign as "massage parlour in the sky ads".[...]

Advertising industry experts do not expect her to be canned but merely refreshed.

"It's been incredibly successful and you don't just give up such a truly iconic symbol having spent 30 years to build it," one executive at a large international agency said.

It's interesting that so much sex gets invoked to peddle what amounts to little more than the privilege to wedge oneself into a seat--one that was miserably uncomfortable twenty years ago, and is all the more so now--in an admittedly phallic-looking sardine can; strap oneself down, and forfeit one's rights to self-determination for an indefinite length of time; and then feel oddly grateful for the half-defrosted bagel and scrambled rubber one is expected to eat with a plastic spork. The experience of air travel ceased being sexy in any way, shape, or form the moment someone realized there was money to be made by stripping the upholstery from passengers' seats, stacking them on top of alongside each other like so many tin folding chairs at a low-budget shotgun wedding, and spacing the rows with an eye toward pretending that adult humans rarely exceed four feet in height.

No, these days, the sounds, smells, and images associated with flying commercial are the very antitheses of sexiness.

This didn't stop Southwest Airlines from trying, though. In fact, as recently as 2004, the airline marketed itself as the of the clouds:

But hark, what's that in the air? Pheromones? Cupid? No, just Southwest Airlines, which is trying to bill itself as a flying matchmaker. Is it working? At the very least, Southwest says so. With its open-seating policy, it claims, people can check each other out at the terminal and then choose to sit next to each other during the flight. It's really playing the angle up -- in-flight snacks are called "love bites," in-flight drinks are "love potions," and its stock ticker symbol is LUV.

But--oh dear--it looks like some odd changes have taken place at Southwest Airlines since those days of screw-top wine and imagined roses. Love bites have been replaced by packets of dessicated pretzel crumbs, and every bit of fun associated with (if not actually provided by) the airline has been drained in favor of...something. A bow to the fashion police? This fashionphile isn't impressed. A nod to feminists? Well, I'm one of those, too, and I think the way the airline treated miniskirt-wearing passenger Kyla Ebbert earlier this summer was insulting at best, actionable at worst.

First, they escorted her off the plane; then, after allegedly subjecting her to some sort of "we're a family airline" talk, permitted her--permitted her! A paying customer who clearly wasn't hiding any boxcutters or bottles of hair-gel on her summer-outfitted person, headed as she was for the 100+ degree heat of Tuscon--to re-board, after which humiliating experience Ms. Ebbert hid under a lovely germ-ridden polyester airline blanket for the duration of the flight. Jessica has video, as well as some truly excellent points appearing in the comment section. A sample:
"God damn it. I am so, so, sick of women's bodies being pathologized like this. Yes, women have breasts and legs. Yes, in many cases you can tell we have them. GET THE FUCK OVER IT. It just makes me so irate that on the one hand, we're expected to flaunt our bodies, but then when we do we're punished. Was anybody else really disturbed by the part where she said she covered herself with a blanket? Because you know, since she's not "fat" or "ugly" she has to be made to feel ashamed of her body in some way."
"This is a feminist issue, IMO, because it's a reflection of the damned if you do, damned if you don't standards in our society for women. Women are expected to be sexy, but not too sexy. Our society simultaneously sends the message to women that how attractive they are is the measure of their worth and also that if they actually want/enjoy sex (or "make" people have "sinful" thoughts) they are horrible people who deserve to be shamed. Does this woman participate in a sexist culture by working at Hooters? Definitely, IMO. But don't we all in some way or another? I really don't think it's that radical of a position to say that even women who participate in perpetuating sexism can also be the victim of sexism."

"Public drunkenness can be dangerous on a flight. Fatness? I'm assuming they wanted them to buy two tickets? A separate and more complicated issue. Strong body odor? I wish I'd been on the flight that banned the BO men. I always seem to be right in the midst of an unshowered soccer team flying between matches.

The point isn't that private businesses can't set basic standards for their customers, it's that this standard is absurd. Subjective and absurd."

I suppose it's back to the drawing boards, then, for airline companies' advertisers, standards-setters, and passengers alike. Me, I'm still fuming that Southwest charged me an Overweight Luggage fee--my suitcase was barely three pounds above the limit!--en route to Yearly Kos; meanwhile it wound up being so bloody hot in Chicago, all I really needed was a couple of tank tops, a sarong, and a pair of shorts. Yet another airline makes my personal No Fly list.

Do you suppose Aeroflot is at all passenger-friendly?

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