Royal Jordanian gets serious about a different ‘fear of flying’

Published May 1st, 2017 - 11:07 GMT
"What if something wrong happens, and they don't believe me?" asks the man in the video. (Royal Jordanian)
"What if something wrong happens, and they don't believe me?" asks the man in the video. (Royal Jordanian)

Royal Jordanian has been on a roll with funny, tongue-in-cheek advertisements mocking Trump and various iterations of his Muslim bans over the last several months. While other airlines have been making the news for much less positive reasons, RJ launched a - mostly - lighthearted campaign taking on xenophobia.

On the US election day in November, the Royal Jordanian Twitter account tweeted fare prices to US cities with the snarky comment, “Just in case he [Donald Trump] wins, travel to the US while you’re still allowed to!”

And later, when the Trump administration announced an electronics ban on flights from several Middle Eastern airports, RJ hit back by tweeting a list of things passengers could do instead of using their laptops, including “do what we Jordanians do best: stare at each other.”

After United Airlines’ PR disaster that saw a Vietnamese-American doctor being bloodied and dragged off an overbooked flight, Royal Jordanian tweeted, “We are here to keep you #united. Dragging is strictly prohibited,” cleverly reminding passengers not to smoke in the airplane.

While others have come across as tone-deaf (looking at you, Pepsi), Royal Jordanian has managed to position itself as a more socially-conscious corporation, and it’s paid off: the airline reported sales to the US were up after launching ads poking fun at Trump’s “Muslim Ban.”

All of these ads hit on xenophobia in some way, but last week Royal Jordanian rolled out a video that tackled discrimination in a much more serious way. 

The ad places the viewer in the shoes of a presumably Arab or Muslim man, as he and other passengers board a plane. As several passengers glare suspiciously into the camera, a voiceover shares the thoughts of the man of his own fears of being feared.

"I'm afraid I end up somewhere I don't want to go," he said. "Afraid of being stuck in a place where people look at me differently. I'm afraid of the 'what ifs.' What if something wrong happens, and they don't believe me? What if they don't ask and just act on their fear?"

The narrator points out how something as simple as a book or a beard can criminalize someone who appears to be Muslim or Arab.

The creators of this ad had plenty of real-world examples to draw on. Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs are routinely “randomly selected for additional screening” in airports and regularly booted off flights for speaking a foreign language or asking for a soda. Last year, Southwest Airlines booted an Iraqi passenger from an airplane because he spoke to a family member in Arabic on the phone. In August, a British Muslim woman was interrogated for reading a book about Syrian arts and culture while returning from her honeymoon in Turkey.

In April 2016, an entire Muslim family from Illinois were kicked off a United flight for “security reasons” after the father asked for an extra strap to secure his child’s booster seat. In the same month, Iraqi scientist Hasan Dewachi was removed from a flight back to London after he texted his wife in Arabic to say he was on his way home. The list goes on and on.

While RJ was quick to comply when the electronics ban was rolled out, it’s the first airline to hit back against the racial profiling that Arab and Muslim travelers face so disproportionately.

As the ad closes, viewers finally see the man, looking uncomfortable and afraid as he sits next to an older white woman who stares at him with distaste. But despite his own discomfort, he leaves all viewers with a powerful parting message: “Don’t be afraid to say no to discrimination.”

 Lindsey Leger

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