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Cabin crews protest over Thai massage soap opera

What with easing the concerns of nervous travellers and dealing with the demands of frequent flyers, one might wonder how airline crews had the time or energy for lust, violence and jealousy at 35,000ft. But fighting in the aisles as the plane climbs to a cruising altitude and steamy sex at stopover cities across Asia is all in a day's work for the racy flight attendants and pilots portrayed in The Air Hostess War, a new Thai soap opera. Watching flight attendants pull back the curtain of the serving galley will now never be the same again.

With just three episodes having been shown the new soap seems to be a hit, with everyone that is except the country's real-life flight attendants. They claim that the show is immoral and demeans and humiliates both them and their profession.

In the sort of free publicity that many television producers would crawl to Bangkok for, Thailand's air crews demanded yesterday that the remaining episodes be cancelled immediately, or else its storylines toned down.

"This soap opera is insulting and damaging to the reputation of flight attendants," said Noppadol Thaungthong, a flight attendant at Thai Airways International, who is leading their union's action. "It's all about sex and air hostesses beating each other up in the cabin because of love and jealousy. This kind of thing never happens."

The union representing the airline's staff says the soap, called Songkram Nangfah in Thai, specifically harms that airline's reputation as viewers will assume the show is based on the behind-the-scenes lives of those working for the national carrier. "People will be afraid to fly with us if they see these scenes with flight attendants slapping each other," Somsak Srinual, the union's president, told a news conference in Bangkok. "Women don't fight. They just argue."

The union said that young Thais who had been intending to train as attendants might be put off the profession after watching the show. It apparently did not consider that the soap might actually result in an increase of applications from people seeking to emulate the passion-fuelled lives of the fictitious flight crew.

In one of the episodes that has created such clamour, a dashing but married pilot has an affair with one of the stewardesses on his flight. "My daughter watched the show and has started to look down on my job," claimed Pichitra Taveerat, a flight attendant. "She asked me 'Is it true that everyone at your job is fighting over guys'. I didn't know what to answer."

The carrier's union, along with that representing the staff of the private carrier Bangkok Airlines, have submitted a formal letter of protest to the Culture Minister, Khaisri Sri-aroon, asking that the television company behind the show, Channel Five, moderate the storylines. A ministry spokesman said officials could not comment until they had seen the letter.

Channel 5 told the Associated Press that it has no plans to cancel the soap opera, which only began broadcasting last week. A spokeswoman, Thawinan Kongkran, said, however, that it would consider cutting scenes that were offensive. "The producer says the soap opera reflects all sides of the profession," she said. "If some scenes are inappropriate, as the labour union says, we will ask the producer to change that."