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Coming and Going: Southwest Bikini Controversy, New Travel Tools

Southwest Airlines pilot Steve Christl, model Bar Refaeli and pilot Mike Clemovitz in front of the 737 bearing an image of a bikini-clad Refaeli.
Southwest Airlines pilot Steve Christl, model Bar Refaeli and pilot Mike Clemovitz in front of the 737 bearing an image of a bikini-clad Refaeli. (Southwest Airlines)

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Profane on the Plane?

When Southwest Airlines plastered a large photo of a bikini-clad woman on the side of one of its 737s last month, a certain amount of controversy was to be expected. But the airline, which partnered with Sports Illustrated to promote the magazine's annual swimsuit edition, can't have imagined what a smorgasbord of responses the marketing stunt would inspire.

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"I am truly disappointed in this decision making. Sports Illustrated is meant for the filthy pleasure of men, and is quite offensive to most others," wrote an indignant visitor to the Southwest Web site after a photo of the plane appeared on the airline's blog (http://www.blogsouthwest.com). A woman who called herself Diane deemed the 737 "sexual harassment in the public sector" and vowed never to use Southwest for business travel again. A third wondered why women wore bikinis at all, stating that a good pair of board shorts was all anyone needed.

Back on the plane, Israeli model Bar Refaeli, lying on her side, her head propped up on her hand, spans the length of the fuselage to about Row 23. There's a come-hither look where 3A ought to be, her bikini bottom cuts through rows 12 and 13, and the entire image is no racier than what you'd see on any beach.

"Are you people alright? What do they wear in the Miss America Pageant, or the Miss Universe Pageant!" wrote a commenter named Ellen as a backlash swiftly gathered steam. "I mean, I can understand some being a little put off by something like this, but to refuse to fly the airline over it?" added commenter George. "Flying porn? Bad taste? Come on, it's a girl in a swimsuit, for goodness sakes," wrote another.

For its part, Southwest maintains that only 25 percent of the public reaction has been negative, and the official line remains that of company blogger Christi Day, who chirped that it "definitely seals the deals on Southwest Airlines' FUN and edgy factor!" But you have to wonder what Kyla Ebbert is thinking. In 2007, she was escorted off a Southwest plane after flight attendants determined that her low-cut top and short skirt were neither FUN nor edgy.

As reported by the "Today" show at the time, when Ebbert asked for an explanation, a Southwest employee told her that "This is a family airline" and "You're too provocative to fly on this flight."

DOT-COM

New Travel Tools

Last month, TripAdvisor and Travelzoo expanded their services to include flight-finding matrices. In addition to comparing airfares across the Web, TripAdvisor's results have links to SeatGuru reviews when available (click on "Show Details" to see the seating layout) and a Fees Estimator that lets you choose frequent-flier status and add checked bags and in-flight services, such as snacks and headphones, to gauge the total amount.

Travelzoo's new fare finder is at Fly.com, which also redirects customers for booking. The standout feature is sorting results by cabin type, for those loath to fly overseas in coach. Otherwise, both Fly.com and TripAdvisor's flight searches look awfully similar to other third-party sites, such as Kayak and SideStep.

TICKER

Finally, a drop we can celebrate: Busch Gardens in Williamsburg has decreased the price of its one-park, one-year pass to $99.95 (down from $129.95) and its two-year pass to $150 (was $239.95). In addition, save $10 more by buying the one-park annual pass by March 28, the theme park's opening day. Reduced price also applies to Water Country USA. Pass holders receive unlimited regular entry for 12 months from the purchase date, free parking and half-off admission to the new Christmas Town, which starts Nov. 27. Info: 800-343-7946, http://www.buschgardens.com. . . . Booking site CheapOair.com just cheapened vacations even more with the recent launch of CheapOstay.com, which discounts more than 85,000 hotels in North America and 75-plus countries. In addition to CheapOpicks, which highlight freebies and other hotel perks, the site is giving first-time users a $15 coupon on domestic lodging (use code HOTEL15; valid on bookings through March 31). Info: 866-466-8827, http://www.cheapostay.com.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Continental is offering a sale to Honolulu. Round-trip fare from BWI Marshall is $455, including $57 taxes. From Reagan National, round-trip fare is $507, including taxes. Other airlines are matching. Requirements include a three-night minimum stay and 14-day advance purchase. Complete travel by Dec. 15. Purchase at http://www.continental.com by March 11.

Reporting: Scott Vogel, Christina Talcott, Andrea Sachs

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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