The Allure of Flight: How Airlines Used Sex Appeal to Entice Passengers

In the mid-20th century, airlines began using sexual imagery and suggestive language in their advertising campaigns to sell tickets. These vintage airline ads often featured women in provocative poses or dressed in revealing clothing, with the idea that the allure of beautiful women would entice men to purchase tickets. These ads often featured images of attractive and scantily-clad women, often in suggestive poses, alongside pictures of sleek airplanes or exotic destinations.

One iconic example is the Braniff International Airways campaign from the 1960s, which featured colorful, avant-garde designs and models in bold, geometric patterns. The ads featured women in miniskirts and go-go boots, with slogans such as “Fly in the Unbuttoned Age” and “Fly the Airline of the Jet Set.” Pan American World Airways, also known as Pan Am, used sensual images of women to lure people. The airline was known for using sexually suggestive imagery in its advertising, often featuring women in bikinis or other revealing clothing posing alongside airplanes or on tropical beaches. The ads were designed to appeal to the desires of male travelers and to promote the idea that a flight with Pan Am would be a luxurious and exciting experience. TWA (Trans World Airlines) often featured models, actresses, and even Miss Universe contestants in their ads, posing in suggestive and alluring ways to promote the airline’s flights as glamorous and exciting.

Another example is the 1970s campaign for National Airlines, featuring the tagline “I’m Cheryl. Fly me.” The ads featured a woman named Cheryl Ladd, a well-known actress at the time, dressed in revealing clothing and posing suggestively. The campaign was considered risqué for its time and generated significant controversy.
The use of sexually suggestive imagery in vintage airline ads was a common tactic used to sell tickets during the mid-20th century. This approach was based on the belief that sex sells, and using attractive models in suggestive poses or suggestive language would attract attention and entice people to buy tickets.

However, while these ads may have helped to boost ticket sales in the short term, they also reinforced harmful gender stereotypes and perpetuate sexism in the advertising industry. Women were often objectified and reduced to mere sexual objects in these ads, reinforcing societal attitudes that women were inferior to men and only valuable for their physical appearance.

Additionally, the use of sexual imagery in advertising was not limited to the airline industry, but it was a common trend across various industries during this period. The fashion, beauty, and consumer goods industries also frequently used sexualized imagery to sell their products.

Moreover, these ads were offensive towards women and people of color, and other marginalized groups, as they were often excluded or represented in a stereotypical way. This kind of advertising also reinforced harmful societal attitudes towards these groups and contributed to the marginalization of these communities.

Critics of these ads argued that they were morally and ethically wrong and counterproductive in the long run. As society’s attitudes towards gender and sexuality evolved, these ads became increasingly out of touch and were viewed as outdated and offensive.

The advertising industry has since shifted away from using sexual imagery in their ads and instead focused on more progressive and inclusive marketing strategies. Today, the industry is more conscious of the impact of their ads on society. It is more likely to use more empowering and inclusive imagery that celebrates diversity and promotes equality.

#1 This Pan-Am advertisement in German shows upward view of a miniskirted lady.

#24 British Overseas Airways Corporation “takes good care of you.” (By putting gyrating hula dancers front and center.)

#25 This Iberia Airlines ad bravely defies ethnic stereotypes by promising travelers a veritable rainbow of stewardess hair colorings

This Iberia Airlines ad bravely defies ethnic stereotypes by promising travelers a veritable rainbow of stewardess hair colorings

Blondes from Barcelona, redheads from Cádiz, and for the traditional Hispanophile, “a liberal helping of the beautiful brunettes you pictured us having.” 1970.

#26 This Japan Air Lines ad delivers a particularly cringe-worthy line: “She is our pride. And your joy.” 1971.

#27 South African Airways offers one for the ladies: When Alec hits on you, he’s not being polite. “Merely sincere.” 1979.

#28 Japan Air Lines does it again, demonstrating just how well-versed its “fairest” of the fair stewardesses are in the womanly arts. 1959.

#30 BOAC Airlines put out a poem ad with an Asian woman.

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Written by Orla Morris

Full-time dress and costume designer, Half Persian half Italian. I still don’t know how to write, but i'm writing and you are reading :)

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