Peter York on Ads
Fasten your seatbelt - this brand is in for a bumpy ride
Sunday 29 October 2006
We're all a bit despondent about flying. There are so many reasons to be uncheerful that if you're like that anyway, the fun's evaporating by the minute. It doesn't apply, of course, to happy single twenty-somethings piling on to easyJet or Ryanair as a gang, tanked-up for a wedding in Ireland or a stag night in Prague - that's what they do now. But if you're a grown-up worrier you can fret about the epic check-in times and the security fuss. Am I carrying anything remotely sharp or combustible?
But for any responsible wonk, every single air yard is costing the earth, killing polar bears and putting Glyndebourne under six feet of water. And anyone supposed to set an example gets asked about their carbon footprint now. They have to pretend they only fly when it's a national emergency.
Poor David Cameron will have to spend that quality time on Jura for ever, when you know he really wants to stay with those nice people outside Cannes or with those Golden Greeks. And should Gordon and Sarah really be going to Martha's Vineyard when they could be back at the manse?
Then there's the question of Airfalldown. One used to worry about this mainly in Africa, the former Soviet Union or anywhere they couldn't afford maintenance and co-pilots. The hard fact was that planes from those places fell down a lot more, for predictable reasons.
But now the whole falling down thing has reversed, or at least the anxiety has. It's us they're targeting in the well-run carriers from the couth countries, with the internet bombs made from two blobs of moisturiser and some contact lens solution. That's what they were saying back in August, anyway. And those lead times, the huge queues and the unpredictable security run (shoes off now, watch where you're putting your hands...), just ramps it up. It's so bad for business, they must mean it.
And then there's just massive modern blasétude. Once unsophisticated Brits were secretly excited to be going on a plane to anywhere: Manchester, Glasgow, anywhere. And we made a longwinded thing of it. The shortest flights had greetings and goodbyes, tiny meals and constant coffee. But in big countries - America and Australia - internal flights were such a necessary basic people took them like buses. Chance it with Ansett: my first experience of getting around Australia was shockingly deritualised for a European.
I still can't see air travel as remotely ordinary, like my sophisticated friends do. (I imagine investment bankers saying to themselves that if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium and they're going there to buy it.)
I still adore the palaver of planes; the gentility of airline language; the cabin crew and their fascinating grooming and body language (I went on Singapore Airlines for the first time this month and it's all true about the girls); the ingenious miniaturisation of lavs and meals.
I love airline food; it's much more entertaining than a halfway decent meal in a halfway decent terrestrial restaurant. But I know this sounds dangerously retro compared to the cost equation of the no-frills airlines with their nasty profit-centre coffee and dry sandwiches.
And European middle-class youth has the New World attitude to flying now - it's basic, it's part of the Nike and North Face gap-year world; it's like being a digital native. That's why people don't write Romance of Air travel songs like "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (John Denver, 1967) any more.
It's the music track on the new BA commercial. It's a campaign which doesn't seem sure what buttons to press, presumably because they don't know what their brand means in a changing world.
It's clearly shy of the 1980s BA approach - the spectaculars with opera tracks, the Superwoman stewardesses (even the language has changed), the Thatcherite reassurances and the chauvinist sign-off,"the world's favourite airline".
Instead there's the reminder of thousands of fares from £29 and a sort of Customer's Charter checklist about what customers - "our guests" - should expect, such as online check-in, and choosing where to sit.
It's all terribly low-key, with a mimsy little cameo of a female cabin crew type putting an unaccompanied nine-year-old black boy in his seat. And there are dolphins - a sort of half-hearted dolphin theme, with now-you-see-them fluffy dolphin-shaped clouds plunging around. This is a campaign that's taken every care in the world into account, and that's why it isn't going anywhere.
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