Do sexy flight attendants really sell more seats?

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Thailand’s Ministry of Culture received complaints from local organizations and critics who were shocked by Nok Air’s sexy photo shoot, according to local Thai media.

One fear was that the photo shoot might propagate Thailand’s image as a destination for sex travel — but the Ministry of Culture says no laws were broken.

“The Ministry of Culture didn’t call me. In fact, I received no call from any government agency,” points out Sarasin. “We were all careful not to expose the women to be too naked.”

Contacted by CNN, the Ministry of Culture says it’s no longer commenting on the matter.

While sex appeal is the blatant strategy for Thailand’s Nok Air, further north “sexy” is a bad word in the Korean airline industry — which is not the same as saying that Korean carriers don’t value what might politely be called “attractiveness.”

“Projecting any sort of sexy image in a flight attendant interview would be hugely risky here,” says Mi-kyung Chung, a former flight attendant who now teaches at the Airline News Center (ANC) flight attendant academy in Gangnam, Seoul.

This might come as news to flight attendants on South Korea’s Asiana Airlines, whose un
ion has been in a long-running conversation with the airline about ending its skirts-only dress code and relaxing strict guidelines for hairstyles and makeup. In February, the airline said it would adopt a trousers option on its next uniform renewal.

With a “few thousand students” — mostly women — ANC is considered the largest flight attendant academy in the country. The school charges $1,440 for an all-inclusive package in which students can take classes for as many months — or years — as they need.

Despite Korean Air’s obvious use of old fashioned sex appeal in its widely distributed “For life on a whole new scale” series of advertisements, professionals insist that sex isn’t the primary appeal.

Instead of sexy, “bright, clean and sophisticated” is the look that’s most sought after in the recruitment process for Korean airlines, according to Jinah Lee, a flight attendant turned ANC lecturer.

Korean airlines have been setting the standard for flight attendants for almost a decade now, says Eunice Kim, head of BCCA flight attendant academy in Shinchon, South Korea, which specializes in foreign airline recruitment.

She admits that looks are part of the package.

“Recruiters for the foreign airlines I work with often tell me that Korean flight attendants are much more good looking and better to work with compared to flight attendants from other countries,” says Kim.

She says the BCCA’s 2,200 students include many foreign-educated young women, “NYU grads,” PhDs and graduates from the top universities in Korea.

According to Kim, a number of foreign students come to South Korea to study at the academy. Some, she says, even undergo cosmetic surgery during their stay in the hopes of being recruited by foreign airlines.

When asked about the demand for Korean flight attendants at foreign airlines, Kim cites “high education rates … good teeth, complexion, height and positive outlook” as attributes.

In addition, Korean flight attendants embrace the service mentality more completely, says the BCCA head.

“Personally, I think it comes from the conservative Confucian background, where women were expected to do a lot of the service in the household,” says Kim.

Attitude trumps looks

The sentiment is similar in China, where the Foreign Airlines Service Corporation (FASCO) recruits Chinese flight attendants for foreign airlines, such as Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways.

At the end of 2012, FASCO helped about 1,200 Chinese nationals find flight attendant jobs around the world, according to director Ji Yang Xiong. In 1996, when the company first began recruitment services, just “a few hundred” candidates applied.

While airplane safety, meal service and customer hospitality are taught, physical fitness is also emphasized.

“Aerobics classes are held in both aviation schools and in training centers in order to keep the aspiring flight attendants in shape, to refine their figure and posture and to strengthen their body,” says Xiong.

Some candidates even learn kung-fu and yoga “so that they are ready to face stressful situations.”

Training and attitude might well go farther than a mere attractive image in explaining the success earned by Asian flight attendants.”American service standards generally have dropped vastly below Asian service standards in many industries, and most particularly in hotel and leisure and travel communities,” says aviation law expert and frequent traveler Quinn.

This may seem self evident to certain frequent fliers, says Quinn, but for those flying on an Asian carrier for the first time, the difference can be a surprise.

“What tends to be lost in the debate over this is that it’s not a crime to insist upon high standards of service and courtesy and professionalism in flight crews,” says Quinn. “For the U.S. businessperson who spends a lot of time in Asia — I’m just back from Tokyo this week — the contrast between U.S. service standards and Asian carrier service standards could not be more stark.

“It’s a quantum leap in service standards as soon as you hit Tokyo and go beyond, whether you’re on a Japanese carrier or Singapore Airlines or an airline from Hong Kong or Thailand. They’re all vastly superior in the service level.

“U.S. carriers are trying to catch up, but they’ve got a long way to go.”

 C.Y. Xu in Beijing contributed to this article.

 

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