TD 1

Backlash is swift for plan which offered in-flight companionship from one of five young, intelligent women.

Despite the similarity of its name to the male possessive pronoun, Japanese travel provider H.I.S. (which stands for “Highest International Standards”) doesn’t specifically focus on pandering to men’s desires. Well, at least not usually.

H.I.S. is pretty gender-neutral in its wide array of domestic and international travel packages, but a recent offer from the company came under heavy criticism for what detractors saw as blatantly sexist and creepy undertones. Just what was the offer? A guarantee that air passengers would have a pretty college girl sitting next to them.

Officially announced on May 11, the lengthily named Todai Bijo Zukan University Student Will Sit Next to You for a Fun Flight to Your Destination Plan is exactly what it sounds like. Customers who booked the plan, offered on international flights, would be seated next to a member of the Todai Bijo Zukan student organization of the prestigious University of Tokyo, which states its goal as promoting the school’s feminine side.

Applications were being accepted to be seated next to one of five young women, ranging from second to fourth-year students of Todai (as the University of Tokyo is populrly called). The profile for each included her field of study, with one literature student, two aspiring engineers, one science major, and finally one pupil from the education department available for in-cabin companionship.

TD 2

Each also had a suggested conversation topic listed, such as “I’ll teach you about the city you’re traveling to,” “I’ll tell you my favorite architectural structures,” or “I’ll help you with your homework.” There was also one woman with the less scholarly invitation of “Let’s talk about comedians.”

In all fairness, none of the accompanying promotional text makes reference to the women’s looks, photogenic as they all are. As a matter of fact, H.I.S. put the focus on their intellects and personalities. It boasted that “Regardless of age or gender, travelers with a desire to learn will be able to spend their time in the aircraft in a meaningful way…The person sitting next to you will explain [her area of knowledge] in plain, easy-to-understand terms.”

It says a lot about the importance Japan places on an educational institution’s prestige that H.I.S. wanted to put people’s minds at ease by assuring them these Todai students could dumb their dialogue down enough for even plebeians to understand. And again, all of its promises are that customers will enjoy the conversation, not the view. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the plans were exclusively to travel with female University of Tokyo, and that none of their male counterparts were being offered as stimulating conversation partners.

All of that made it hard for people to swallow the company’s claim that the plans were great for “people travelling alone, with friends, or with their spouse and children.” Most people quickly judged that it would only be single, male travelers, specifically those interested in having a girl stuck next to them with nowhere to run, or even anyplace else to sit, for several uninterrupted hours (remember, the plans were being offered for international routes), and many took H.I.S. to task for what they thought was a blatantly sexist and deplorable idea.

So while H.I.S. was initially planning to accept applications for the plans through early June, with the flights themselves taking place over the summer holiday season, it scrapped the idea on the very same day it was made public.. The promotion’s webpage has been taken down, and replaced with a statement reading:

“We have received many comments regarding a plan our company announced on May 11.”

“We would like to deeply apologize for the discomfort caused by certain portions of the plan. We have taken the complaints to heart, and have cancelled the Todai Bijo Zukan University Student Will Sit Next to You for a Fun Flight to Your Destination Plan.”

“Once again, we offer our sincere apologies.”

In other words, while your entertainment options still include books, movies, music, and video games, don’t expect anyone to provide you with an in-flight college girl.

Follow Casey on Twitter, and he promises to respect your decision whether or not to engage in small talk if the two of you ever get seated next to each other on a trans-Pacific flight.

Source: IT Media, PR Times, H.I.S.
Images: PR Times