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Aviation

Vietnamese airline’s 2018 bikini calendar may set pulses racing – but using sex to sell seats doesn’t fly in conservative travel markets

Vietjet Air says photo shoot was to ‘showcase the airline’s high-quality service’, but the scantily clad women pictured in it are mostly not Vietnamese and don’t work on any of the company’s 49 aircraft – they are models

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 7:57pm

What matters most to you when choosing an airline? It’s probably low fares, free bags, or convenient flight times. Or perhaps it’s an expectation that your flight will have bikini-clad attendants.

Not for the first time, Vietnamese discount carrier VietJet Air is using sex to sell seats, unveiling a promotional calendar for 2018 featuring women in bikinis.

The airline, which flies from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City and serves 23 domestic and 10 international destinations, is calling its VietJet Bikini Calendar a “hot item for all aviation fans and travellers”. It also appeared to suggest that this wasn’t only about sex.

“The hot and sexy models have always been the favourite of many VietJet passengers,” said a media representative for the airline. “Not only displaying their gorgeous looks, the models posed in different cabin crew and staff roles to showcase the airline’s high-quality service and friendly staff.”

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So is this stunt really about promoting good customer service? The calendar includes images of scantily clad women posing as pilots, air traffic controllers, technicians, maintenance staff and flight attendants. All of this is in aid of “presenting a very interesting perspective to the airline’s excellent services and modern fleet”, according to the media release.

Of course, the women in the calendar don’t work on any of the airline’s 49 aircraft. In fact, most of them are not even Vietnamese. On board this risqué branding exercise are 20-year-old American model Celine Farach, the Thai runner-up of Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2017 Kwanlada Rungrojampa, and Vietnamese runner-up in Asia’s Next Top Model 2017 Nguyen Minh Tu.

VietJet Air has form in such “bikini branding”, and has often been referred to as “the bikini airline” since August 2012, when the airline was fined 20 million dong by Vietnam’s civil aviation body for allowing five models to perform a sexy Hawaiian-themed dance on a flight to Nha Trang.

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Its tactics to boost sales appear to have worked, however. Launched in December 2011, VietJet Air now runs 300 flights a day on a fleet of Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, operating 40 per cent of all domestic flights in Vietnam.

It also flies to Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, Japan and Myanmar. VietJet Air’s CEO and president is Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, southeast Asia’s only female billionaire, who is estimated to be worth US$1.8 billion.

However, if using sex to sell seats has proved controversial in conservative Vietnam, it has threatened to derail the airline’s expansion into predominantly Muslim countries. When it was announced in August that VietJet Air was in talks to run a flight between Vietnam and Jakarta, Indonesia’s ambassador to Vietnam had to confirm publicly that VietJet’s flight attendants would not be dressed in bikinis.

Last week AirAsia and Firefly experienced similar issues in Malaysia, where the tight uniforms of female crew came under fire from senator Abdullah Mat Yasim for being “too revealing”, The Straits Times reports. The senator expressed concerns that such sexy uniforms could give tourists the wrong impression of Malaysia.

When Tokyo-based Skymark Airlines released a new mini skirt uniform in 2014, the Japan Federation of Cabin Attendants complained, saying it objectified employees, and could encourage sexual harassment.

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Every savvy traveller knows that you should respect local customs and adhere to the local dress code, so you would expect all airlines to as well – not to mention realising that objectifying women goes against international business standards.

And before you ask: no, the flight attendants on VietJet Air don’t really wear bikinis.