Are Flight Attendant Uniforms in Southeast Asia Too Sexy?

Sex sells or at least gets consumer attention (positive or negative) in a crowded market, as VietJet’s 2018 bikini calendar demonstrates. Sex may sell especially well in traditionally conservative societies in Southeast Asia where it’s a relatively new ‘open’ marketing tactic and consumers may not yet be as jaded to it.

But VietJet had to promise not to send flight attendants in bikinis when opening up a route to Malaysia. (And when opening a route to Jakarta, Indonesia they had to commit to halal food for Muslim passengers and that flight attendants wouldn’t wear bikinis there either.)

In Malaysia far more demure flight attendant uniforms at AirAsia and Firely are under scrutiny from some of the nation’s politicians. (HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

Two Malaysian ruling-party lawmakers have chided homegrown airlines AirAsia and Firefly for dressing their stewardesses in uniforms that are “too revealing”.

Senator Abdullah Mat Yasim, a division chief of the ruling Umno party, said in Parliament the fitted attire of AirAsia’s and Firefly’s female flight attendants can “arouse passengers”, the New Straits Times reported.

The “eye-catching outfits” also do not reflect the status of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia, Mr Abdullah added, according to the newspaper. ”The Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) must really look into this,” he said when debating the MAVCOM (Amendment) Bill 2017 in Parliament on Monday.

…It was the second time in two weeks that the uniforms of flight attendants have been spotlighted in the Upper House or Senate, whose 70 members carry the Senator titles.

One Senator has taken a queue perhaps from U.S. Vice President Pence in his concerns, and perhaps should only travel with his wife if he’s flying AirAsia.

“My wife is worried whenever I fly alone on Malindo or AirAsia,” Megat, who is also general-secretary of the Malaysian National Silat Federation, quipped. ”This is a real hassle for me,” he said, drawing laughter from other members of the Dewan Negara or Upper House of Parliament.

And to be fair, these airlines do sell sex even if they don’t actually make sex available.

Malaysia is a country of many contradictions, where religions and ethnic backgrounds clash and groups fight for legal privileges that often backfire on members of those groups. For instance ownership of land in certain neighborhoods is set aside for members of specific groups. But that simply serves to limit the market that homeowners can sell to, depressing the prices they can get, benefiting large developers who qualify. It’s a cronyist rule that exploits the poor and middle classes under the guise of populist rhetoric.

One of the contradictions of the society is tolerance for the exploitation of women as long as it is done privately. For instance one of the senators objecting to the ‘sexy’ uniforms explicity has no issue with Malaysian carrier Malindo Air, saying their uniforms were “acceptable” because despite being ‘body hugging’ they covered the “sensitive areas” of flight attendants.

Yet Malindo Air required women to remove their tops while interviewing to be flight attendants. According to their director of public relations, “It is the right of the employer to request potential flight attendants to expose their chests to interviewers.”

AirAsia has even tried to market itself as more respectful towards woman than Malindo. Yet it’s how women are displayed that’s the issue for Malaysia’s male politicians not how they’re treated.

Malaysian politicians would be well-advised not to travel to Sri Lanka where that country’s national carrier where bare midriffs are covered in front by a sash.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Islam has been a real cancer in Southeast Asia, dragging the region backwards in time. It doesn’t really show any signs of going away either, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. The sooner everybody goes secular the better, but Islam is really screwing things over there and other places.

  2. Too sexy? Who would want to even imagine what is underneath that Asian polyester Halloween costume with the requisite face warpaint?

  3. These women are asked to bare their breasts in job interviews and the conclusion of the above posters is that “No, FA’s aren’t being forced to be too sexy.”

    Um, okay.

  4. Ray is a bigot. Exactly what does he know about SE Asia? Does he feel this way about all religion or just Islam. Islam (along with family) provides a social safety net here that is sustainable. Islam in Indonesia is much more tolerate of minorities than one generally encounters in a West populated by people like Ray.

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