A Chinese airline attracted a media mess after announcing plans to dress its cabin crew as maids and butlers. Low-cost carrier Spring Airlines unveiled the uniforms as part of a special promotion posted on its corporate Facebook page, according to Shanghai Daily. The airline posted, “We’re mixing up our flights with some fun on-board themes – like these maid and butler costumes.”
But the the Shanghai-based carrier’s plan to attract passengers with goofball “theme flights” backfired, instead attracting global criticism, particularly on social media. The sexy-baby maid theme is particularly inappropriate for the Middle Eastern market. Not only is the immodest attire offensive to Islamic sensibilities, the reality of Asian domestic workers in this region starkly contradicts the cutesy-costumed crew.
Critics suggest the airline should focus instead on flight punctuality, reduced tickets prices and improved services. Grab press from improved environmental performance rather than “cosplaying” crews in revealing attire. Concerns were also raised over health and safety risks: the risque uniforms include short skirts and high heels, and the attendants wear their hair loose instead of in a classic pull-back.
Japanese artist Nobuyuki Takahashi coined the term “cosplay”, short for “costume play”, to describe a form of dress-up performance art particularly popular in urban Asia (think of anime and manga).
Cabin attendants won’t be the only ones cosplaying: pilots will dress as butlers.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Objectifying flight attendants is the last marketing strategy you wanna use,” stated one of the airline’s Facebook fans. “I wonder what your passenger demographics look like. I do hope this marketing move is supported by solid market research.”
The airline replied, “Thanks for your feedback! We’ll never objectify any of our staff; in fact, this idea came from our international crew of qualified Chinese, Japanese and Thailand cabin staff.”
Asian maids in the Middle East don’t carry the same connotation as, say, French maids in the West.
Every year thousands of women from Asian countries travel to the Middle East to work in Arab households. Many end up suffering physical and emotional violence at the hands of their employers, working unpaid and refused time off. Passports are commonly confiscated by the employer or workers’ agent, and outside assistance is difficult to attract without full command of Arabic or English.
The situation became so bad in Jordan, that the Philippine government temporarily banned domestic workers from traveling here (Jordan hosts an estimated 30,000 Filipino workers). That ban was lifted in 2012 after the two nations inked deals to protect domestic workers, including a guaranteed minimum monthly salary of $400. The situation hasn’t improved.
Olivia V. Palala, Philippines ambassador in Jordan, told news site GMA Network, “We want to ensure that maids get better treatment. We want to ensure their basic rights are protected.”
Many of the estimated 40,000 Sri Lankan workers in Jordan are also abused. “Around 100 domestic workers run away from their employers every month,” I.L.H. Jameel of the Sri Lankan embassy told GMA Network.
Human Rights Watch says many of the Asian domestic workers in Jordan face the same abuses as migrant domestic workers elsewhere in the region, stating in a 2012 report, “The reasons these abuses persist is the weak enforcement of existing legal rights and omissions and provisions in the law that facilitate abuse.”
Jordan’s labor ministry downplayed the problem. “The number of cases mentioned is small compared to the problems in other countries around us,” said ministry secretary general Hamadah Abu Nejmeh. “There is some negligence, but Jordan does not tolerate violations.”
And we shouldn’t tolerate cabin crews dressing up as maids and butlers. Given that they’re responsible for passenger health, safety, and security, maybe flight attendants should dress up as doctors and policemen instead.
Images from Spring Airlines Facebook page