How much cuteness can a grown man take?
I don't know about you, but if I had to take a 12 hour or so trip across the Pacific Ocean (something I used to do with regularity), at the very bottom of my list of criteria for selecting a flight would be the presence of a cartoon figure beloved of little girls in the exterior and interior of the airplane. But what do I know?
Evidently, cuteness sells, at least in East Asia. Why else would Eva Air, a Taiwan-based airline with a global route structure, decorate and then heavily promote 6 jumbo jets in its fleet devoted to the theme of Hello Kitty? Lest you think Eva Air is some small outfit, it is part of the Evergreen Group, one of the larger operators of cargo ships in the world, and a formidable airline in its own right.
Eva Air was already flying 5 Airbus A 330 jumbos on routes within Asia, but this week, the company began service to America on a sixth plane specially outfitted. Check out the exterior of their latest Hello Kitty ship, a Boeing 777 now being operated between Taipei and Los Angeles.
Okay, who cares about the fuselage? I could handle boarding an airplane like that. I have taken a Southwest Airlines airplane painted to look like whale, after all. But I am taken aback by the prospect of boarding the plane and as I am searching for my seat, coming across this scene:
I guess I am a curmudgeon, but I would be tempted to turn around and see there were another flight I could take instead.
Now, an airplane decorated this way, with special meals, might be fine if it were dedicated to flying to Orlando, Florida, for example. Lots of kids taking their parents on a trip like that. But the big bucks flying across the Pacific to Taipei are in the business class seats catering to hi tech and other executives. Are there very many mid to upper level management types who just adore the little feline cartoon figure?
The Hello Kitty jet was such a big deal for Eva Air that the company's chairman, Chang Kuo-wei, not only took the inaugural flight across the Pacific, he took the controls.
I spent a good portion of my adult life working in, studying, and explaining the ways of East Asian cultures. I overcame many of my own cultural limitations as part of that process. Eating braised sea slugs, sitting on my knees, Japanese style, for hours, and learning and following the rituals of social interaction were no struggle. But I think that when it comes to Hello Kitty, I may have reached my limits.
I sincerely wish Eva Air great success in this enterprise. They are a good airline with a good safety record. I am just curious about who the target market is.