Vietnamese airline in PR crisis after bikini party for U23 football team

By Phuong Son, Minh Nga   January 29, 2018 | 03:38 am PT
Vietnamese airline in PR crisis after bikini party for U23 football team
Players of Vietnam's U23 national football team walk down from the VietJet flight that carried them back home from China on Sunday after the AFC U23 Championship. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
The models started a 'spontaneous' bikini show, the CEO of VietJet Air claims.

Vietnam’s bikini airline has raised eyebrows again after videos and photos of models wearing bikinis on a flight carrying Vietnam’s U23 national football players home from China to Hanoi on Sunday were posted on social media.

Following the public outcry, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Monday assigned inspectors to verify the photos and videos that show several models wearing bikinis, touching and posing for photos with the Vietnamese players on their flight home after the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship on Saturday.

Most social media users said the performance put on by the private budget airline were distasteful and against Vietnamese traditions, said the ministry’s statement released on Monday.

Dinh Viet Thang from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) said inspectors had been ordered to look into the case.

Thang said VietJet had not asked for permission to hold a bikini show on the flight

VietJet, which has become known as the "bikini airline" for dressing its female crew in swimwear several times, sent an aircraft to pick up the Vietnamese players in Changzhou to thank the players for their efforts.

During the three-hour flight, the airline threw a party, which resulted in several models putting on a bikini show.

VietJet CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, the first and only female billionaire in Vietnam, subsequently wrote a letter of apology to the Vietnam Football Federation, head coach Park Hang-seo, the players and Vietnamese football fans.

The bikini show was a “spontaneous act”, she said, adding that one of the models allowed herself to pose for photos with players and posted them on Facebook.

The founder of VietJet also said “the urgency of the flight, the harsh weather and the complicated procedures in China were among the reasons that led to the airline's mistakes.”

After news of this apology spread on social media, members of the public said VietJet was “irresponsible” and “ridiculous” to say the show was “spontaneous”.

This is not the first time VietJet has played the bikini card, but the incident on Sunday was hit hardest as the entire country was looking at those players as heroes.

On Sunday morning, Vietnamese people were looking forward to the young players stepping off the plane after an impressive journey at the AFC U23 Championship.

Vietnam was the first Southeast Asian team to make it to the final of the cup, and their spirit during the final in snowy condition touched the hearts of many fans.

Most Facebook users said what the models did was "disrespectful" to the players, given their efforts throughout the tournament in China.

Others said what VietJet has been doing is “cheap”, “unacceptable” and called for the boycott of the airline.

A VnExpress reader with the nickname TIM said: “If VietJet is smart enough to dress those models in ao dai, the traditional dress of Vietnam, its brand’s value will absolutely rock the market.”

But many netizens also went off the rail to body shame the models, calling them "fat".

VietJet Air told Reuters last month that it was standing by a controversial “bikini” calendar.

The annual calendar, which has gone viral online, is part of a broader marketing push by VietJet that has propelled the start-up airline’s rapid growth, as it has taken market share from Vietnam Airlines, said Reuters.

The publication of the 2018 calendar - which critics say overly sexualizes the image of flight attendants and other airline staff - comes amid growing debate in the global airline industry about sexual harassment and in-flight assault of both passengers and employees.

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao said the calendar emphasized free choice of people to wear whatever they wanted.

“We are not upset when people associate us with the bikini image. If that makes people delighted and happy, then we’ll be happy,” Luu Duc Khanh, VietJet’s managing director, said in email to Reuters last month.

When asked about the views of Thao, Khanh said the CEO thought people “have the right to wear whatever they like, bikini or traditional ao dai."

As for the case related to the U23 football team, VietJet will likely face a fine.

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