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Spring hopes maid themes will draw numbers

By Wang Ying in Shanghai  (China Daily)

16:07, May 06, 2013

A Spring Airlines stewardess dressed up as a French maid. Spring Airlines, China's only budget air carrier, launched themed flights last month with flight attendants dressed as French maids and butlers. [Photo/Provided to China Daily]

Themed flights, new menus and more business class seats are among the innovations that Chinese low-cost carrier Spring Airlines is banking on to draw in more passengers this year.

The Shanghai-based carrier is, however, banking on themed flights, in which flight attendants and crew are dressed up as French maids and butlers, from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to bring in more domestic passengers.

Spring Airlines says that it was motivated to launch such flights in China after the successful experiences of other international carriers. "We were profitable in 2012," said Wang Zhenghua, founder and chairman of Spring Airlines.

Strong support from Shanghai Spring International Travel Service, the carrier's parent, has been one of the main reasons for its success, said Li Lei, an industrial analyst with Minzu Securities.

"The parent's strong support ensures that Spring Airlines has a large passenger flow even in a low market," he said.

"Most of our passengers are young, white-collar workers and the themed flights are just one of the steps that we are planning to cater to their tastes," said Spring Airlines spokesman Zhang Wuan.

"The clothes are designed according to young people's tastes and they are prettier than the normal flight attendant uniforms. We have called them maidservant clothes and butler clothes because we want to emphasize serving customers," he said.

The clothes resemble maidservant dresses in old French movies with a modern style.

Zhang said the costumes have been designed by the budget airline. The themed flights would be chosen at random as the carrier wants to surprise its passengers.

Yin Xiaonan, branch manager at Shanghai Jingjiang International Travel, said Spring Airlines' themed flights "underline the domestic carriers' willingness to offer more high-quality services".

"It's meaningful," added He Jianmin, a tourism management professor from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, "especially because Spring Airlines is usually recognized as a low-cost airline".

But critical voices have also surfaced online.

"Dressing like a servant will give people the impression that flight attendants are in an inferior position and that's not a good idea," one netizen wrote.

Gu Jun, a sociology professor at Shanghai University, said: "The definition of a servant does not necessarily mean precedence in social life. Whether one person is inferior to another is not decided by a title but by one's personality.

"There are many services for which flight attendants have to kneel down to serve first-class passengers and there were many criticisms about that when the service was launched at first," he said. "But as long as the service is provided without violating the law, there is no need to argue whether it is proper."

He from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics said there are several leaders who are trying to offer servant-style leadership and they are often called "public servants". Since there is hardly any criticism of such activities, there is no reason why flight attendants cannot wear such dresses, He said.

The development of Chinese society, he added, will need people to change the notion that to serve is a low-level person's job. As a matter of fact, the more a society develops, the more important services are, he said.

Taiwan's Eva Air used Japanese cartoon character Kitty White for its Hello Kitty-themed planes. Passengers on the themed planes had the famous kitten on items as diverse as boarding passes, cups and food.

The themed flights are one of a series of themed marketing initiatives the budget carrier launched this year.

"Price will always be the first consideration, said Qian Ting, an employee of Shanghai Airlines Tours. "No matter what, customers always prefer the cheaper flights."

Most of Spring Airlines' customers are middle- to low-income customers. However, by providing themed flights, the low cost carrier is looking to win a wider variety of passengers, said Gu.

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