Mile-high moron

Richard Branson’s Virgin has hit a new low by releasing a seat-to-seat delivery system as part of their ‘in-flight entertainment’ system. You can now officially haress on other passengers and send unwanted advances and creepy messages from the comfort of your own seat! Doesn’t that sound like everyone’s dream flight?

In a cringe-worthy video from Virgin that seems like it must have been written by a failed trash fiction writer, Branson claims that your chances of pulling using his in-flight ‘flirting’ system are about 50/50. Branson’s projected ‘success rate’ is going to fuel the hideous idea that somehow men are ‘owed’ attention or sex from women for spending time or money on them. He’s suggesting that if you ‘invest’ in buying his crappy airline food for some unsuspecting woman, you can calculate the risk but expect a repayment.

I don’t understand how anyone deems this to be acceptable. It’s a dreadful, creepy idea that could make women really uncomfortable. Being picked out on a seating plan and sent gifts because someone has spotted and taken a shine to you? That’s a gross and embarrassing invasion of privacy, and it’s going to funnel a lot of unpleasant unwanted attention onto people who don’t want it.
And of course the service is clearly intended for men sending things to women. The video speaks to men and what they should do to impress ‘her’, before adding a perfunctory ‘or him’ at the end as an afterthought. With adverts like these, and in-flight add-ons perpetuating the idea of men showering women with dinner, drinks and gifts in exchange for sex, it makes you wonder if Branson is trying to single-handedly drag us back to the fifties.

The weirdest thing about this scheme is there doesn’t seem to be any opt-out choice for people who, for whatever reason, don’t fancy strangers buying them gifts without their knowledge, or want to avoid the awkwardness of sending back an unwanted offering. It’s totally absurd that just by wanting to take a flight you can be made deliberately vulnerable in this way. A plane is public space and people are there for another purpose than to be letched on. In-flight harassment can already be a problem for female passengers and air-hostesses, and this is not only inviting and validating potential harassment, it’s creating a little piece of infrastructure to facilitate it.
Branson has always used sex to sell his products – from uniformly beautiful air-hostesses, right down to the name ‘Virgin’. Now he’s plugging his planes by promising men the right to letch on women. And if you’re a woman and someone takes a shine to you there’s no escape, no opt-out, just hours and hours stuck in the sky with someone watching or pestering you.

No doubt people will start crowing that back in the good old days it would have been seen as a compliment and that women should be pleased to be the object of attention whether they consent to it or not. Yeah, well, back in the good old days women were also not able to open their own bank accounts, run marathons, have abortions, own property or buy themselves a drink in a pub. Back in the good old days women were systematically denied the opportunity to have a decent career and make their own money, just one of the many ways of making them as dependant on men as possible.

But someone needs to let Branson know that unfortunately we’ve moved on to these bad new days where women can afford to buy their own houses, cars, flights, and, yes, even drinks. So I’ll tell you what, Dick – if I want a drink in a bar, on a flight or anywhere else for that matter – I’ll buy it myself, thanks. Or if our eyes meet and there is a mutual attraction and two way flirtation going on, I might buy you one – with our without the Virgin mile-high infrastructure.

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