Virgin Atlantic: 25 years on and still behind

// 20 January 2009

On 20th June 1984 Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic, marketed as a cheaper and more efficient alternative to British Airways. To celebrate their 25th year, Virgin has a nostalgic new advertising campaign. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, you can watch below:

Maybe this was acceptable in the 80s? It may have been acceptable at the time..etc..but, Branson, not now, oh no. I don’t think this ad is particularly complimentary to men or women. You have the beautiful (female only) air stewardesses gliding through the airport surrounding the (of course, male) pilot, as desperate men salivate over these young beauties (one man wanting to change his ticket) and older women look on with envy. If this campaign was designed to spark longing for the “good ole days” it has failed badly, since all it has done is demonstrate the extent to which gender roles were unbearably oppressive just a quarter of a century ago.

Maybe without the visual this ad could be palatable, since the best thing about it is the soundtrack. Frankie Goes to Hollywood has to be up there with the all time greats, surely?

Comments From You

maggie // Posted 20 January 2009 at 8:36 pm

Ugh! I hate this advert. I would say that it’s themes wouldn’t have been acceptable in the eighties just as they’re not acceptable now.

Kate // Posted 20 January 2009 at 10:47 pm

I knew the F Word would instantly pick up on this unbelievably sexist piece of rubbish! I saw it on TV a few days ago and I kept waiting for there to be some twist or punchline to render the whole thing a mickey-take, but no. . . . how sad, how predictable.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 20 January 2009 at 11:01 pm

I can hear the excuses and justifications already. Advertisement is ‘ironic,’ it is ‘humourous,’ it is parodying belief women are men’s sex commodities etc. etc. In reality this advertisement is acceptable because now it is common practice to always portray women as men’s sex objects.

So much for progress because we have not progressed but instead have regressed. Yes indeed we are back to the good ol’ 1950’s when women were women and men were men!!

Louise // Posted 20 January 2009 at 11:10 pm

I am so glad someone else has picked up on this. When I saw this advert on TV a couple of days ago I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

JenniferRuth // Posted 21 January 2009 at 8:54 am

Isn’t it a take on that film, Catch Me If You Can? Which is…set in the 1960’s if I remember correctly, so it has no relevance to Virgin Atlantic.

It is quite depressing that this type of sexist imagery is held as being nostalgic.

Austin // Posted 21 January 2009 at 9:23 am

Is the image of the flying v of stewardesses surrounding the pilot, going through the airport, taking off the scene from “Catch me if you can”?

Sabre // Posted 21 January 2009 at 9:39 am

I too saw this advert a few days ago and I thought it was a joke. I can understand what they’re trying to do, recapture that old image of glamour that used to surround working for an airline. But the gender stereotyping is pretty sad.

I was on a Virgin Atlantic flight a few weeks ago and we had a woman pilot. Usually the pilots introduce themselves but she didn’t ever actually say ‘I’m your pilot’ which is what the men pilots do (in my experience). I regularly notice male cabin crew too.

Gemma // Posted 21 January 2009 at 1:36 pm

Ridiculous, depressing and completely fucking stupid – I too was waiting for the ironic punchline which never came!

And if you were cabin crew, could you seriously go through a transatlantic flight wearing those tight skirts and heels, or even get on to the aircraft without stumbling?! As a passenger, I’d be seriously worried about their ability to move quickly in an emergency (or move at all). “When using an escape chute, ladies please remove high-heeled shoes” would only apply to the cabin crew in this instance.

Richard Branson must have had to approve this, and he’s clearly stuck in that eighties time warp.

Kez // Posted 21 January 2009 at 2:04 pm

I agree with Maggie, I don’t think this advert would have been any more generally acceptable in the 80s than it is now.

Lara // Posted 21 January 2009 at 5:47 pm

It is nostalgic.

It reminds the big cheeses at the ad agencies of the simpler days when instead of creative and thought provoking advertising they could just stick a bird in a short skirt and assume people would buy the commodity.

I honestly don’t think any woman would watch this advert and think gee I want to fly Virgin.

Vivian Enderson // Posted 21 January 2009 at 11:44 pm

I dont agree with any of your comments ladies.

This advert is all about glamour. It starts with “London 1984”

Celebrating the Woman leading the way! Beautiful, clothed and smiling

I dont think you got the jist of it!

Maia // Posted 22 January 2009 at 11:38 am

That’s ‘gist’, Vivian.

George // Posted 22 January 2009 at 1:47 pm

Vivian – I don’t think you get the gist of feminism!

fenris // Posted 22 January 2009 at 3:39 pm

celebrating women leading the way, my arse. all the women in that ad (aside from the virgin crew) looked upset at the spectacle. their reactions suggest that the ad is telling me as a woman that i shouldn’t fly virgin because the hot ladies will make me feel bad!! whether or not i would feel intimidated by hot ladies is irrelevent – the point is that virgin don’t seem to give a toss what women think of their service because there are men’s willies to think about.

yeah yeah, irony, kitch, funny, blahblah. i can’t stand cowardly use of irony at the best of times. just come out and say it virgin – you want to use straight up T&A to sell your wares, cut the crap. there is potential, a long way from now, for this to be funny. but first we need a society in which women are not routinely either ignored by advertisers or objectified by them. it’s not going to be funny until we live in a society where it actually looks silly to do this to women, the ridiculousness quaintness of it all being the amusing part. nobody could seriously say we have actually got to a stage where a woman’s body being used to sell us stuff is ‘quaint’ and past it’s sell-by date.

JenniferRuth // Posted 22 January 2009 at 3:48 pm

Oh Lara!

“It reminds the big cheeses at the ad agencies of the simpler days when instead of creative and thought provoking advertising they could just stick a bird in a short skirt and assume people would buy the commodity.”

I only wish that this was a thing of the past! There are still a surprising amount of (usually male) ad exec’s who still seem to think that nothing can be sold unless the ad contains a woman objectified as sex.

On the bright side though, there are lots of us who are trying very hard to counter-act this sort of idiocy.

Has anyone seen that advert for mouthwash with the naked woman standing in a field of wheat?

…but…oh no! She is missing a tooth!

Buy the mouthwash or you will never feel confident enough to run naked through Kansas again!

Sometimes I despair.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 January 2009 at 5:57 pm

The irony is, it doesn’t look much like the 80s, and they have to remind you with all the cues at the beginning that it was set 25 years ago. The shorter version, especially sets up the stewardesses as looking quite modern. So of course they’re meant to be hot, but it has to look modern, because if people don’t find them attractive by today’s standards, then it just won’t be sexy enough. The whole thing looks very faux-80s.

And, as everyone’s said, there’s no punchline. There’s nothing particularly glamourous about being expected to work long hours serving tired and grumpy passengers in high heels and thick makeup, and it’d be nice to give cabin crew more freedom from oppressive rules rather than upping the workload to include walking in 6 inch heels.

JenniferRuth: I remember that advert! so pointless! What has nudity got to do with tooth decay? Why not start advertising anti-smoking campaigns with naked women?

A good reason to feature people in stages of undress would be advertising bath-related stuff, or something medical, but only if men are used too. Gotta have equal opportunity nudity!

Artemis145 // Posted 22 January 2009 at 11:24 pm

I guess it was far too much to ask to have an ad. with a sassy female pilot and a few handsome male cabin crew..

I was first taught to fly by a very tough, glamourous and incredibly talented female 737 captain and have met plenty other fabulous female pilots in the ten years I have been into flying.We are all very used to comments from stooopid people about parking and map reading and PMT and are usually good at just ignoring it and getting on and doing the most exciting and exhilarating thing humans have ever learned to do i.e fly aircraft.

I had hoped things had moved on a bit since the day I sat in front of a stunned high school ‘Careers Adviser’ trying to explain in vain to her that I wanted to be a pilot and not a stewardess.Sadly, this irritating and risible little advert suggests that it has not.

I had to laugh at the daft outfits though .The combination of grade 3 turbulence and stupidly high heels would be very entertaining, although valeting the ceiling of the aircraft and picking the resultant gory bits out of it probably would not..

On balance, though,(and to my great sorrow), some the most inane and offensive comments I have heard about female pilots have been from other women (see Angela Epstein’s odious Daily Mail article of 12/01/2008 as an example of this.)

It ain’t just Virgin Atlantic who are still behind, believe me..

Stacy // Posted 23 January 2009 at 11:48 am

Do you realise that there is also a fairly fit looking bloke in the advert who is shown being eyed up by a number of ladies?

One must also consider the target audience for the advert. When was the last time you saw an advert for a product usually purchased by ladies which did not involve some sort of indignity being heaped upon the male character?

Sadly I feel that the comments posted previously do little to further your cause for equality.

Pat // Posted 23 January 2009 at 11:48 am

Oh for God’s sake its just a bit of fun, there’s plenty of ads where men are depicted as sex objects too, (Any aftershave ad) who do you think they are targeting when they use a topless David Beckham to sell their wares? I don’t hear you complaining about that.

N’or should you, to each other we are sex objects, we judge each other initially on appearance and attractiveness. Where’s the harm in acknowledging that men find women attractive and vice versa? Would you rather we all pretended not to like each other. Get over it, this ad is not sexist at all, women find men attractive and men find women attractive, depending on what product you are trying to sell you can use this to your advantage. But its done to both sexes and most people do not have a problem with it. Life is too short to be worrying about an ad thats meant as a bit of fun, why not take the ad in the spirit its intended and get on with life.

Sabre // Posted 23 January 2009 at 12:08 pm

@ Pat

I am taking the advert in the spirit ity was intended – sexism. As for adverts depicting men, the men are rarely shown as a group flocking around a powerful woman. Portrayals of sexy men still reinforce power, and those of women often reinforce objectification and submission of some sort. Boring!

There are two reasons I like this advert – the song is great and I love red.

Would it have killed them to show at least a male cabin crew member? I wonder how the male employees feel about this advert, and the reinforcement of the idea that their job is in fact still viewed as women’s work.

Juliet // Posted 23 January 2009 at 12:49 pm

Stacy says “one must consider the target audience” and Pat says “it’s just a bit of fun, this ad is not sexist at all”.

Well, a few weeks ago I travelled Business Class on British Airways, for work. On a packed flight, I was the only female passenger in the Business Class section. The all-female cabin crew were so busy fawning over the male passengers (“take your coat, sir? Newspaper, sir? Drink, sir? Good morning, sir, nice to see you!’) that they completely ignored me. I had to hang up my own coat, I didn’t get offered a newspaper, and none of them wished me good morning, said it was nice to see me, or even gave me a polite smile. They did kindly spare some valuable fawning time during the flight to serve me a (rubbish) cup of coffee. When I disembarked the aircraft, I was invisible again amongst all the important “target audience” male passengers.

It wasn’t any fun at all.

Simond // Posted 23 January 2009 at 10:06 pm

Juliet, chill out honey. When men are being served in pubs we are all invisible to the barmen.

Its life.

And lets be honest, most girls who look as good as they do in that ad use it to their advantage at some point, so lets all be realistic that looking great is good.

Also cheers those around us up, as the pepsi ads cheered you ladies up when they showed office girls fawning over the hunk. (Obviously, if you can fine me a thread on here stating how simply awful that was I will retract).

Until then, I have to accept that when i drink a can of Cola, it needs to be diet, and the office girls will still not look. But life is more than skin deep, so dont get hung up on the minutae.

Kaye // Posted 24 January 2009 at 10:19 pm

PAT and STacey– It is fine to be a sex object to one another. Men can be sexy, women can be sexy. The point is aparantly we can only have certain roles. Man flying the Plane, Women cooing after his superior role. Couldn’t they have had a female pilot, and male air attendants?

George // Posted 24 January 2009 at 10:37 pm

How has this post resulted in so many rubbish (i.e. blatantly sexist) comments?

(“Chill out honey” ?!?! Excuse me?)

I didn’t realise that people were so keen to defend Virgin Atlantic, of all things.

Amy // Posted 24 January 2009 at 11:01 pm

My heart actually sank – a serious sign of very bad times. I got so angry, the older women jealous of younger women because their value to a male society is gone. And yep the male pilot.

Sabre is right, it’s the spirit of it. As if a board of laughing misogynists weren’t thinking this up as an ironic attack on fourth wave feminists.

I’m complaining, about the gum disease ad with naked girl in field too.. Not on.

Aimee // Posted 25 January 2009 at 9:59 am

Speaking of this, there is also a print version of this advert running in various magazines (Including National Geographic, which I was rather upset about), this is the closest approximate I can find to a link –

… I mean, the image speaks volumes. Look at the “come hither” expressions on the faces of the women, compared with the arrogant expression on the face of the man. Also the sitting positions of the respective individuals. It just makes me angry. How can Virgin possible endorse this portrayal of women and how can a lot of the commentators sit there and say that it’s harmless? Because it’s not… it’s perhaps MORE harmful because it’s actually quite subtle.

Maia // Posted 25 January 2009 at 12:53 pm

George wonders why this post has attracted so many blatantly sexist comments. Yeah, it is depressing. But the silver lining in my personal cloud is that at least people like Simond are reading a feminist website! And maybe even one day (I too can have a dream!) Simond won’t assume the right to address people as “honey” or tell them to “chill out” when they make a point or have an opinion which differs from the default in Simond’s World.

Sallyanne // Posted 25 January 2009 at 1:01 pm

‘let’s be honest, let’s all be realistic, that’s life’ – those seem to be the favourite patronising phrases of people who defend sexism.

I’m so glad Christabel Pankhurst didn’t say, ‘Women don’t have the vote. Oh well, let’s be realistic. That’s life.’

Anne Onne // Posted 25 January 2009 at 8:42 pm

Artemis145, I remember that article! The one where she was all ‘I just wouldn’t feel safe with a female pilot, her voice would sound so childish’ and all that. Apparently the patriarchy gets women to write its worst articles, just so it can’t be accused of sexism. People still believe that a member of a certain group can’t be discriminatory to that group. Ugh… Seriously, who is stupid enough to guage capability by such irrational presumptions?

George: it’s not Virgin Atlantic people are really defending, it’s the status quo. That some women feel that they actually have power, because if they preen enough and are submissive enough, men might be nice to them. But real power is not having to fawn and follow rigid roles and make oneself attractive and be constantly sexually receptive to get something, it’s being considered equal, and having the power to do what you want without having to wheedle it out of a man, so that he gives you something if he feels like it. Women are taught that they posess great power, but all that power really is boils down to our being sexual gatekeepers for men. We guard the vagina, and put men through hoops for it, in turn for what we want. Assuming they don’t just decide to rape us anyway. Naturally, we at The F-word would rather like to move on from this very medieval idea to the hope that women can be seen as people, rather than a pair of tits, an arse and some sexy legs.

And some men? They defend the status quo because they gain from it. they gain a media which is constantly selling them sex, with women’s bodies permanently available to them. They gain that women are pressured into always smiling and being nice to them, and that if they want, they can easily use their social power, as well as their physical power, to get what they want from women.

Whilst I doubt that all attractive ladies (subjective, since who gets to define attractiveness? is it a real aesthetic appeal, or just women who are prepared to spend the most time making themselves up, shaving and being subservient?) actively use their looks to get ahead (as opposed to being given preferential treatment by foolish patriarchs whose heads are easily turned by a pretty face), would I blame them for doing so? No.

In a society where you’re born a second class citizen for wearing your genitalia on the inside, I would not begrudge women using what little power society affords them to make what they can. I would hope women work hard to be treated equally, but I don’t hold women accountable for the choices they are forced to make. Not when men routinely use the much greater powers they have against women, getting paid more than they do, getting the highest jobs, lumbering women with housework and childcare, and let’s not forget being coercive or even raping.

Simond, maybe you shouldn’t chill out. Because bit by bit the idea that people like you are the only ones whose opinions or needs or wishes matter is being erased.

George // Posted 26 January 2009 at 10:31 am

Anne Onne – evidently. It’s just that this is a recurring theme (hence feminism), and I am curious as to why this particular instance of it has provoked such sexist comments.

Maia – I love your optimism but I am sceptical!

Sabre // Posted 26 January 2009 at 2:19 pm

@ Aimee

I looked at the advert you linked to – yuck! I noticed particularly the empty seat between the two women, where clearly I, the MAN, am meant to sit and be fawned over. How welcoming!

@ Simond

If the Pepsi ad bothered you I hope you complained and/or wrote in your own blog about it. This is a feminist website, we’re not here to do your work. I didn’t like that advert particularly and it didn’t cheer me up, but at least it was a refreshing change to reverse the gender roles for once. Something that is still too rare.

‘When men are being served in pubs we are all invisible to the barmen’

Firstly there are female bar staff in most places too. Secondly I don’t like being unfairly served before a man if it’s because some creepy barman has been eyeing up my breasts. Thirdly, being served more quickly in a bar doesn’t mean the world is OK for women. Lastly, having worked in a bar I know that staff are most likely to serve someone who smiles at them and looks patient, and I find women tend to do this far more, to both sexes. Whereas many men are reluctant to smile at a barMAN and look bored, restless or angry instead.

General comment: Original source shower gel seem to have some balance, naked women AND men in fields!

Cara // Posted 26 January 2009 at 3:21 pm

Yeah, HATE this ad. HATE.

Wow, yeah.

DIET COKE AD 1111!!!

Women get served more quickly in pubs!

The world is OK!

What sexism?!

What Sabre said.

Also, barmen may serve women they deem sufficiently ‘hot’ quickly – i.e. displaying cleavage, wearing a lot of make-up, etc. Women they decide are too old, fat or just unattractive are ignored for the ‘hot’ women.

And not all bar TENDERS do this anyway, as Sabre said. I’ve worked behind a bar too; I did my best to serve people fairly in the order they’d been waiting. I would tend to serve people who look pleasant, or at least neutral. People who sigh, tap, wave money etc. get ignored as they are arseholes. More of those people are men. (In fairness, some women do this too, and some men are polite, although I think on average women tend to do so less than men; we are socialised to be polite and nice).

Anna // Posted 26 January 2009 at 4:24 pm

There are few things worse than being served by a pervy bartender. One I will always remember in Manchester train station served me an extremely strong vodka and coke (there was no way he could reasonably have made that mistake – I’m talking at least 3/4ths vodka here) whilst singing ‘Let me lick you up and down, till you say stop’ and giving me the thorough up-and-down with his eyes. Funnily enough once he noticed I was there with my boyfriend the drinks became a whole lot weaker.

But hey. I got served before the other guy at the bar, so I guess that means his actions were completely free of sexism?

Jacqui // Posted 26 January 2009 at 4:41 pm

George –

To me this is the first instance of womens’ inferiority being openly relished as the main focus of an ad. Even some guys are saying they can’t believe how overtly sexist it is. Whether it is sexist or not is undebatable.

But it is a sexists dream come true, something as big as virgin advocating clearly how ‘women should be women’. Sexists jump at the chance to defend it.

Aimee // Posted 27 January 2009 at 4:14 pm

Jacqui… I think you’ve got it absolutely right… these instances of obvious male priviledge are the times when all the sexists come out of the woodwork and tell us to “chill out” and “calm down” and “stop menstruating”… etc. It’s not just men, though, but also the female sexists who tell us that it’s “just a bit of fun”… because really, they like giggling and preening and getting attention for being silly, stupid little girls who need admiring and looking after and patronising. Most of these people live within a system that benefits them, in a very narrow kind of a way, at the expense of many, many others… at the expense of our children, at the expense of women who don’t want to be marketed and exploited and stereotyped, at the expense of men who don’t want to be archetyped and stripped of their integrity.

Jake // Posted 13 February 2009 at 9:50 pm

Look, This airline is almost symbolic. “Britains Flag Carrier” this airline in my experience has the very Best service and very comfortable. Nowadays we as a country are always looking for things to critisize. Virgin has fallen victim of this.

Did anyone notice the MALE!!!! Stewards with the red ties! At the end you see them wearing grey with the stewardesses.

If you think i am wrong reply but i have to say i think you sexisim critisism has been washed away hope you are flabbergasted. there are clearly male stwards there.! end of. im only defending an amazing airline.

Emma // Posted 1 May 2009 at 9:36 pm

I’m a cabin crew member (not ‘stewardess’) with Virgin, and am proud to work for the airline and do the job I do. OK, some people here may look down on me for doing a ‘stereotypical’ female job, and for not being a pilot, but I don’t have the brainpower to get the kind of qualifications they need and I like travelling and dealing with people, which is why I like the job I do.

Personally I’m not offended at all by the ad, the reverse in fact. It portrays us as smart and glamorous and as others have said, is a play on the film about the guy who pretended to be a pilot.

Someone said ‘what use would they be in an emergency or turbulence in those heels?’. Actually even today Virgin CC have to wear heels until we take off, then we have to switch to flats for the safety reasons you mentioned.

Even today, we’re one of the few airlines where skirts are still compulsory for female CC. IMHO we look smarter and more glamorous that way and the airlines that allow trousers are reducing the status of their staff in the eyes of their passengers. Plus, I’m proud to be a woman, I like my figure and legs, so why dress like a man?

Big Rich // Posted 4 June 2009 at 1:16 pm

Virgin Atlantic are doing a competition to remake this ad! If your version of the ad gets voted the best you get to fly on a re-creation of the inaugural flight, to go the 25th birthday party in Manhattan and get a night’s luxury accomodation.

They’ve not given you long, only about 12 days, so check out for all the details.

Aimee // Posted 4 June 2009 at 3:25 pm

:s… I’m baffled by your responses. Oh look! There’s a man so it’s not sexist!

Is that man strutting around making women jealous of him because he pertain to an artificial ideal of feminine beauty… no.


Emma, maybe you enjoy your job. You are entitled to. What we are critiquing is that the women are portrayed sex objects, and that being ‘glamourous’ and looking like a man’s idea of a ‘sexy’ woman is what women must aspire to, and nothing else. I’m glad you enjoy it, but it should not be presented as the ideal for all women.

Qubit // Posted 4 June 2009 at 4:08 pm

Emma why do you feel “the airlines that allow trousers are reducing the status of their staff in the eyes of their passengers.” ?

I don’t think I would change how I think about a woman if they were wearing a skirt or if they were wearing trousers. I do understand it is a companies choice what its staff are required to wear however I tend to support a scenario where women have a choice and believe men should be given a similar choice (although that will take longer to become socially acceptable).

I actually find the concept that you have to wear high heels until you take off quite confusing. If footwear is not suitable for the job in hand why make it mandatory? At the same time I guess sexual attractiveness does sell and while I personally don’t think the cabin crews job is eye candy maybe it does significantly boost business.

Sabre // Posted 4 June 2009 at 4:17 pm

@ Emma

If heels are so impractical (and they must be if you have to switch to flats before take-off) then why do women staff have to wear them at all? Do the male staff have to wear uncomfortable/unsafe clothing or footwear in order to look ‘smarter and more glamorous’? I wear heels sometimes and don’t have a problem with that but I’d have a big problem if my employer was forcing me to wear them.

I thought we had moved beyond the stage where a woman wearing trousers is considered to look ‘like a man’. How on earth are trousers ‘reducing the status of their staff in the eyes of their passengers’?! Other than being sex objects what other ‘status’ are you referring to?

Olga // Posted 24 June 2009 at 7:33 am

lol. most of us, who don’t care about whether this ad is sexist or not, will keep flying Cathay Pacific and stay away from aggressive campaigns, but kudos to Richard B, who knows how to play his market.

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