VietJet Air, Vietnam’s only privately-owned airlines, has worked up quite a stir in the aviation industry with its young, attractive, bikini-clad flight attendants. Female VietJet employees don colorful bikinis and even put up an inflight performance for their customers, mostly during inaugural flights to beach locations. The marketing gimmick has earned the company huge profits, and plenty of criticism to boot.
These ‘bikini performances’ are not a standard practice on all flights – they’re more like a featured bonus on certain routes. One of the earliest shows was staged on a 2012 flight from Ho Chi Minh City to the coastal city of Nha Trang. As reported by ABC News, “Clad in vaporous string bikini tops and sarongs that flaunted the company colors of red and yellow, young, beautiful women filed down the plane’s aisles for a bikini show.”
“As passengers pulled out their smart phones and video cameras in order to archive their unique airline experience, the young women sashayed up and down the plane, batting their eyelashes at the passengers and handing out toys to children.”
Although the airline managed to delight its passengers on that occasion, Vietnamese aviation authorities were not amused. As clips from the performance went viral online, the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) slapped VietJet with a $1,000 fine for holding an “unapproved show” on the plane. But because the plane had reached a safe altitude before hosting the three-minute show, the airline was allowed to continue with the practice.
According to Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Vietnamese businesswoman and the brains behind VietJet, the bikini-clad models on flights are meant to represent empowerment amidst the nation’s conservative culture. “You have the right to wear anything you like, either the bikini or the traditional ao dai,” she said, speaking to Bloomberg Pursuits. The ao dai consists of a long tunic, worn over loose pants. “We don’t mind people associating the airline with the bikini image,” she added. “If that makes people happy, then we are happy.”
From a business standpoint, the bikini image seems to have paid off for Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, as VietJet is all set to surpass national carrier Vietnam Airlines as the nation’s biggest domestic carrier this year. As for the ambitious CEO herself, after the company holds its IPO sometime in the next three months, she will become Vietnam’s first woman billionaire.
Airlines in countries like Thailand, Mexico and even the UK have used annual calendars featuring bikini-clad flight attendants to promote their business, no other has been as bold as to adopt the skimpy attire during actual flights. That makes VietJet unique.