Air Vistara has launched #VistaraWomanFlyer, an initiative supposedly launched in March, 2017 in association with women’s day, but hitting the newsreels in late July for some reason. According to the Vistara website, they will ensure that “only a window or aisle seat is assigned at check-in”, and make sure that “uniformed Vistara staff will be available at the baggage claim area holding #VistaraWomanFlyer Arrivals Assistance placards, to assist women travelers with their luggage and with the booking of airport-authorized taxis, as well as escort such customers up to the taxi stand upon their request”.
Reflect on that for a moment. They will have staff with placards implying that a ‘woman traveler’ automatically needs assistance with just about every aspect of traveling. If you’re a woman and thinking that this is chivalrous instead of condescending, ask yourself if you would mind if someone stood outside a shopping mall parking area with a placard offering to help women with parking or at a car rental place with a placard offering help with driving. How about tuition centers offering free special classes for math then? Doesn’t sound as great does it? Gender stereotyping doesn’t stop being ridiculous just because it is sugar coated with the appearance of chivalry.
Do only women need assistance with luggage or car rentals in a new city? What about an elderly man with a walking stick? If asked this question, the airline will definitely say that their staff would help elderly men or disabled men as well on a case by case basis. Why not do that for women as well then, instead of waving placards to reinforce stereotypes?
The assurance of window or aisle seats is another step that needs to be evaluated carefully for what it actually achieves. I suppose the idea is to avoid a woman having to sit between two guys who can potentially harass her. Again, sounds great at first but not so much when you think about it. Is gender segregation really a solution? Even if you believe it is in the short term, it probably ends up damaging better long term solutions, such as improving our society to the point where men don’t harass women in public without fear of punishment, whatever the seating arrangement. The topic of gender segregation and its consequences is worth a whole other blog post or more but lets just say it usually has the effect of legitimizing sexual harassment by blaming it on physical proximity instead of the perpetrators choices. Many women believe that avoiding middle seats is the smarter choice just to reduce the odds of getting harassed, which is perfectly fine but the issue here is that the airline is making it a policy. Wouldn’t it be better if the airline used some of this PR machinery to advertise a zero tolerance policy towards any kind of harassment? They could run a section in the airline brochure asking women to press the call button if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Include a line in your T&C stating that airline staff may ask people to reshuffle their seating to allow the lady to sit somewhere else if such incidents are reported during a flight, followed by strict action against the offender after the plane lands. They could train the staff to keep a note of female passengers on a middle seat and watch out for signs of trouble. There’s a whole bunch of things an airline can do other than gender linked seating arrangements.
Women should be angry at Air Vistara for acting like they can guarantee safety only on aisle and window seats. Is it implausible to imagine a scenario where a woman tries to book the ‘woman flyer’ seats but takes a middle seat because those are already full, gets harassed and later hears somebody blame her for choosing to book that flight instead ofthe next one even after knowing that the ‘safe’ seats weren’t available?
The real reason why most women are happy with this preferential seating arrangement is that everyone hates middle seats, whatever be the reason. People don’t protest when a policy or initiative gives them better stuff than before, no matter what the concept behind it is. Imagine if the airline had said that women will not be given window seats as well because that would trap a woman too far inside and make it difficult for her to move out in case of an incident? I bet your Facebook and Twitter feeds would be full of write ups and change.org campaigns the next day talking about how a sexist airline refuses to let a woman gaze at the horizon and claims it is for her protection.
Its amazing how few people see this initiative to be the condescending marketing gimmick it is rather than an example of corporate chivarly. Several news outlets reporting on this proudly ran headlines lauding Air Vistara for ‘treating women differently’. Are we really going to let the prospect of better seats and help with suitcases make us forget that the good fight used to be against treating people differently based on caste, creed and gender?
Don’t be against gender discrimination only when it disadvantages you. Speak up when it puts you at an advantage as well, or you risk keeping the beast alive for later, when it might not be as kind as this time.