Swinging on Virgin
Sir Richard Branson is turning Virgin America flights from Los Angeles to Las Vegas into a six-mile-high singles bar. The airline offers an app that lets passengers give a virtual wink and real cocktail to a fellow passenger who catches their fancy. The new feature shows where the lucky guy or gal sits and you take it from there by sending over a drink or snack. The next step? Suggest a private chat, of course. All domestic Virgin America routes are expected to offer the service in the near future.
Contagious and Childs Weigh In
Contagious: Richard Branson is no stranger to courting controversy for the sake of generating PR, and while most news outlets and blogs have diplomatically said that this would make flights more “interesting,” others haven’t been so tactful. The comment from Policymic’s Elizabeth Plank includes a firsthand account about how, aged 19, she was sexually harassed on board a plane (as well as a picture of Branson looking particularly predatory).
Virgin has been at the forefront of changing air travel, offering greater comfort and entertainment. That is largely thanks to Branson and his visionary approach toward making air travel fun rather than an endurance course. But could this be a step too far? If in-flight flirting happens organically, that’s one thing. Branson actively encouraging to help hook up his passengers is another. Is that what passengers want from air travel? Most people on board a flight seem so engrossed in iPads, in-flight movies or naps that a free drink from seat 34F is more likely to be irritating than intriguing.
Nick Childs: Virgin America pushes the idea of “friendly skies” by taking aim at the age-old, mile-high club fantasy of meeting someone – and maybe a little more – at 35,000 feet. The message? Fly Virgin and you have a 50 percent chance of “deplaning, plus one.” But is a discreet, virtual introduction to a person via an in-air chat app a great, creative idea … or is it stalking?
While going for an “all-in-good-fun” approach, this one seems to miss the mark. The language in the accompanying video — starring, of course, Sir Richard — is targeted at a male audience with aspirations of meeting available females en route. It offers up innuendo-laden phrases like “compromising positions” and the ability to “end up on top,” but how will women on the other end of the conversation feel when a glass of wine shows up on their tray tables? The suggestion seems to be that if the sender has as much money as Branson, she might be into it. But for normal passengers, the risk may be greater, and it could make for a rather uncomfortable trip if the object of your affection isn’t quite so impressed.
In a world where brands are becoming dangerously edgy to keep pace with sexting on Snapchat and “Banging With Friends” on Facebook, there’s a growing desire to push the envelope. Sometimes that means potentially awkward creative ideas get the greenlight before they’re fully baked. And while some passengers may appreciate a singles-bar approach to air travel on their flight to Vegas, it may not work so well with customers headed for a long overdue family break on a kid-laden flight from St. Louis to Orlando.