Virgin’s Mile-High Club

(This Article Originally Appeared On Lipmag.com)

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As a twenty-something self-proclaimed hipster from Tasmania, it might come as a surprise to hear that I have no interest in travel. I didn’t go on a gap year. I didn’t volunteer in Indonesia, teaching dispossessed orangutans to build sustainable housing. Sorry, guys, but I didn’t. But I have been on enough flights to know that they can either be a bit of a drag, or a bit of an adventure. And Virgin America has come up with a great way to make your aeronautical commute just that little bit more of a drag/adventure.

Richard Branson recently unveiled a new ‘in-flight entertainment feature’ in some Virgin America flights: a sassy ‘seat-to-seat delivery’ system where you can buy a drink/meal/snack for that nice looking lady in the third row from the back with the funny jumper. The problem is that what could sound kind of cute has been marketed blatantly as a way to ‘get lucky at 35,000 feet’. Great. Gotta love oh so thinly veiled sexist bravado. Makes you feel glamorous, like you’re on Mad Men. (Seriously, I will quit with the Mad Menreferences soon, I swear). Let’s pour an Old Fashioned and have a look at this.

Elizabeth Plank on PolicyMic called Virgin’s new feature ‘a creepy bar you can’t leave’, but what’s so bad about it? Is it sexist? Well, although Branson throws in the token and obligatory ‘OR HIM’ when explaining buying a treat for ‘the object of your affection’ that you spotted across the heady, dimly lit room A380, it really is implied that it is a service for men to use to act upon women. This is not necessarily bad for all women in all situations. (Look, I did let that creepy, albeit cashed-up, guy buy me a couple of G&Ts at the pub the other weekend because I was broke, ok? I’m not that proud of it.) But this innovation reinforces and replicates broader discourses in our culture that situate men as active and women as passive.

This in-flight get-lucky-machine where you insert money, booze and airplane food and then sex falls out like a treat, encourages a stalky-rapey-pick-up culture designed to benefit men at the expense of women. This isn’t all that great because such behaviours do not need encouragement in our society – they are already happening everywhere, and planes are no exception. The stereotype of the sexy airhostess permeates popular culture, often to the detriment of the experiences of real, live, thinking, feeling womenwho happen to be airhostesses. Meanwhile, countless women are sexually assaulted and harassed while travelling alone on airlines. This can be a particularly harrowing experience of harassment as, unlike a bar or other public place, you cannot leave to avoid the situation. Often, if the plane is full, you can’t even get relocated, causing women to be trapped. In such a situation, a built-in ‘caaanIbuyyoooahhdrrrinnnk??’ application could only make things more awkward.

But it can’t be all bad, right? After all, like aqua-green mold in a share-house, love/lust blossoms in some of the strangest places. With the future increasingly populated with electronic, technological and Internet-y things, perhaps this is just what’s in store for us; the mechanisation of hooking up. We’ve already seen therise of apps such as Grindr and Blendr that act like a social GPS in the chase for tail. So how is this any different? Creepy in-flight crack-ons aside, I find this whole thing a great example of how we use technology, fabricated asexual constructs, to perform our very gendered and sexual selves. Finally, it’s not as though women can’t use the Virgin seat-to-seat delivery to actively seek out man-meat once the seatbelt sign is off. Richard Branson could be talking to us, ladies, when he wishes us ‘good luck up there’ in his institutionalised mile-high club. So go forth and plus one the shit out of the next flight you’re on. The sky’s the limit.

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