Cruising at new heights

Britain is getting its first gay airline. Sounds like double-entendre hell to Simon Fanshawe, who asks whether we really need one

Staggering news. A man called Martin Langham, who used to be a British Caledonian trolley dolly – cabin crew for those who live in a camp-free world – is starting a “gay-friendly” airline called Freedom Airways.

It’s going to fly out of Manchester, which is very homosexual in these post-industrial days when warehouses become bars, banking halls become cafes and gays have become a tool of economic regeneration. It will also leave from Luton.

Now, forgive me if I’ve made a mistake about the idea of gay-friendly travel, but when was the last time you met a heterosexual male flight attendant? Some years ago, in a restaurant in Brighton, I watched a line of stewardesses descend the stairs in bright-red livery macs, followed by just one steward who was wearing a beige one. When I asked why he wasn’t in red he replied defensively: “Because it’s not very masculine.” That is the last time I, or anyone I know, came across one.

The meal service on Virgin Atlantic is like the late show at the Copacabana. Most of the cabin crew ask the question “Meat or fish?” in a distinctly suggestive way and add with a camp sneer: “Or would sir like the vegetarian alternative?” The implication is that it would be terribly downmarket were one to say yes. So I have always thought flying was a very gay experience.

But according to Langham it’s not. He fell asleep on his partner’s shoulder flying back from Bali on “a major airline”. He was woken by one of the cabin staff and asked not to be so intimate. We’re not talking the mile-high club here. We’re talking teddy-bear-aah-sleepy-byes.

I once had sex with a Buddhist on a Qantas flight to Australia. Not only did the earth move but I also came back as something entirely different in another life. Now everytime I hit turbulence I think of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

In that case it would have been entirely reasonable for the crew to have intervened. But Langham was just sleeping and the attitude of this airline was outrageous. That is what needs changing and he could just have started a campaign. Instead, he has gone charmingly over the top and become like Victor Kiam, the man in the Remington ads: “I hated the airline so much, I started one of my own.”

So do we need a gay airline? We need a gay lobby like Stonewall to tackle disrimination. We need gay bars because, although people say you meet men at dinner parties, you don’t. But an airline?

First, several of the top airlines deny that they give any such instructions to cabin staff. Virgin says it wouldn’t dream of interfering if two passengers were obviously a couple. The more matronly British Airways had to consult but its spokesman came back and said the same.

However, I don’t doubt Langham’s experience for a moment. Every gay person has suffered being told, in a double entendre that would moisten Freud’s consulting chair, not to shove their sexuality down everybody’s throat. He probably bumped up against an airborne version of Anne Widdecombe. Although if he had, he would have been flying Aeroflot or Swissair. Their hostesses look like the heroic members of the People’s Union of Agricultural Workers (women’s branch) that you see in Soviet art posing next to a socialist realist tractor. But if he’s right that some gay people would rather travel with other gays, then good luck to him.

I can imagine nothing worse than travelling on a gay-only airline. It would be double entendre hell for a start. You can imagine what would happen the minute the captain announced that the plane had started to go down. If we landed in the sea some idiot would suggest synchronised swimming to land. And the duty-free would always be fresh out of Calvin Klein by the time it reached Economy.

Some gays and lesbians love queer-only spaces. Me, I find the pressure a bit much. Far more fun to sit and fantasise about the man three rows in front: what he’s going to do in Australia when he gets there; what colour we’ll paint our bedroom in the house we’ll certainly buy when we fall in life-long love; what kind of puppy we’ll have. Better that than meet him and find out he’s some naff queen from Harlesden, with Capo Di Monte china and three chihuahuas at home.

Although if that’s what I am worried about, maybe I should fly Freedom Airlines from Manchester and not Luton. But I’d prefer to fly on a major world airline with everybody else and tell them to get stuffed if they try to stop me loving my boyfriend.

This article originally appeared at:,,240873,00.html

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