‘Air India air hostesses are so old and unpleasing. They even throw tantrums.’
While such a comment about any woman should make all eyes roll in disgust, this was said in casual jest, with the action of folding up a newspaper that carried a piece on Air India’s present floundering condition.
Because clearly, the same rules are not applicable to the skies and the land.
Ogling at a woman is offensive, but honestly, what do you do in your long flights — when you don't have internet?
And it’s not even a gender-exclusive act.
It’s not that only male passengers ogle at air hostesses.
Female passengers, too, notice how they wear their hair high, how they cosmetically move their lips while saying ‘Thank you’ every time you have been gracious enough to hand them an empty paper cup, how they manage themselves — and a huge trolley — in high heels, in the narrow space.
(It's said that they are taught not to smile genuinely which may encourage the passengers to ask for free services again and again. Still, there are so many high-altitude love stories culminating in marriages, including that of Vijay Mallya and Union minister Babul Supriyo).
A paper-cutting from the Hindustan Times; courtesy World history in Pictures
And we have been seeing air hostesses since 1946. By ‘we’, I mean ‘India’, as Air India introduced air hostesses in 1946. But clearly, we have not been able to move past that time.
And the airlines have done a lot to merit the blame.
So, in the beginning, were the airlines so sure that no one would take the ‘high’ way — unless there were some additional attractions?
And these additional attractions had to be professionally groomed, very impeccable looking women?
All this contributed to the imagery of ‘hawayi sundaris’ that pop up in our minds every time we hear the word ‘air hostess’.
They are not supposed to be everyday beauties. So, no girl-next-door appeal is encouraged. The more you are polished, sophisticated, perfect, the better.
Hawayi sundaris are not available on land, it seems. They are apparently what you get when you spend some extra money for your travel — at least that’s what the intention was.
Okay, we got the message. (Courtesy: World History in Pictures)
Why ‘be unfaithful’?
Like no one objects to cheerleaders dancing during IPL matches, no one objects to airlines posting photos of their air hostesses to impress consumers about the class of their services.
Like, who boards a plane to know how to use the safety kit?
The service offered by an airline is primarily its transport and instead of air hostesses, the companies should advertise their pilots and, maybe, their flying experiences. But no — air hostess, apart from all the frills of fashion and glamour, is clearly a commodity.
And this titillation is not new.
The famous Air India advertisement which said ‘Next time you fly 747 to New York, be unfaithful’ belonged to a pre-click-bait era of 1973.
Another advertisement reads: “We’ll bring you home with a headful of memories; of dark-haired beauties, exotic shops…” accompanied with a photo of an air hostess.
Both are misleading — yet super-suggestive.
'A headful of memories, of dark-haired beauties.' Ads you can't believe were ever made! (Photo: World History in Pictures)
Come-hither look and the basic story of BMI
We don’t know why Bollywood portrays air hostesses as 'escorts' in so many movies. And they never show the legal battles these air hostesses had to fight for the right to get married and bear children — without losing their jobs.
According to reports, in 1971, the Illustrated Weekly of India did a cover story on air hostesses and classified what various airlines want in the looks department. For Air India, it was apparently ‘come-hither’ looks. We are not even explaining what that means.
Of course, privatisation in aviation only intensified that.
Over time, things have become implicit. And instead of come-hither and whatsoever, air hostesses are evaluated by more scientific BMI. A BMI of 18-22 is permissible for air hostess, though there were proposals to relax this a bit.
You're out if you look like a girl-next-door. (Photo: Reuters)
Otherwise, what’s the purpose of Bikini airline?
But why exactly? (Vietnam's Bikini Airline)
This fascination is, of course, not confined to India. What is Vietnam’s Bikini airline doing? Does it fly faster? Do bikini-clad air hostesses make extra room?
Well, of course not.
It's just cashing in on the fixation we have for flying beauties — women who are just doing their jobs.