One of the most-thumbed books in my collection is a delightful publication called “Grumpy Old Wit” by Rosemarie Jarski. It is a volume I cannot praise too highly. In it, there is a lovely story involving Britain’s Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It records a conversation between HRH and (fortunately for him) an anonymous official at a London airport. It goes like this:
Official – “How was your flight, sir?”
HRH – “Have you ever flown in an aeroplane?”
Official – “Oh, yes, often.”
HRH – “Well, it was just like that.”
Prince Philip was, I believe, simply expressing a view very common amongst travelers – that air travel is essentially tedious. You travel to one concrete and glass monstrosity, usually miles from anywhere, stand in a queue to get your boarding pass, hang around said monstrosity for several hours, being overcharged for everything, stand in another queue to get on board the aeroplane, spend several more hours in a metal and plastic tube in an uncomfortable seat eating usually uninspiring food, then land at another concrete and glass monstrosity to go through the whole process in reverse.
That is why airlines spend so much time and money trying to convince their paying public that the whole boring process is exciting, colourful, and sexy.
It is just another aspect of the phenomenon called “vanity publishing.” And Air Malta, under its new improved (?) management, seems to have gone down with a severe attack of it. For some time now it has become almost impossible to buy a Maltese newspaper without its having a glossy wraparound or other form of presumably expensive advertisement extolling the virtues of the airline’s re-branding exercise. Why? Can someone explain to me the whole point of this exercise in self-gratification?
As someone much wiser than I am once remarked – “A vanity publisher’s intended market is the author himself.”
News of Air Malta’s recent decision to repaint its planes was given exhaustive coverage in the local news media already. If there is any citizen of these islands who is not aware of the plan, it can only be because he or she is cloistered within a closed religious order or is resident in Mount Carmel. So why are they spending even more public money to tell us all again and again in boring detail what they are about? The answer is simple – pure self-gratification. Air Malta’s management seems to feel a need to demonstrate to the world at large, or at least that part of it that is Maltese, just what clever bunnies they are by coming up with a new daub for their tail-fins.
Air Malta’s problems are well documented. The threat of redundancies has been extensively publicized, as has been the possibility of severe cut-backs in its services. Is there any intelligent person anywhere on these islands who seriously believes that a spray-job is going to attract more paying passengers? My lifetime has spanned the development of air travel from it being the prerogative of the privileged or rich few to it being today a method of mass transport. In all of that time I cannot think of a single occasion which I have heard of or experienced of anyone picking an airline because of the colours on its fuselage. People select their air journey for many reasons – convenience, does it fly from close to where you are to close to where you want to be; cost – can we afford it?; standards of service and comfort ; safety record … but the pictures on the plane???
I have to declare an interest. I like Air Malta. I have been living on these islands for eight years now and for the ten years before that I came to Malta regularly each year. In all of that time I have never travelled to Malta or from Malta by any means other than Air Malta. My reasons for doing so were what I have outlined in the preceding sentences. I have to admit that the paintings on the aeroplane never really crossed my mind, although I will concede that, if I thought about it at all, I did rather like the quiet dignity of the Maltese Cross.
I cannot say that I feel the same about the new, improved daub. It looks to me as if the design was based on the results of projectile vomiting after a night on the curry and lager.
Lord alone knows, I am no great admirer of Margaret Thatcher. She did, however, have her moments. One of the finest in my opinion was when British Airways went through a similar form of re-branding exercise. When they unveiled a model proudly displaying their proposed new livery, Mrs Thatcher took out her handkerchief, covered the offending item with it, and told British Airways’ Chairman that the whole thing was an ugly mess.
Needless to say, British Airways new livery did not last very long.
We all know that the PN government is a staunch admirer of Mrs T. After all, they keep slavishly copying the Conservative Party adverts of her time. By the way, just as an afterthought, I do hope that GonziPN is actually paying the originators of these adverts properly for their services. It would never do if the Maltese government, those staunch guardians of public morals, were to be guilty of plagiarism.
So, will anybody in our government have the Thatcherite balls to tell Air Malta exactly what they think of their re-branding, that Air Malta needs rather more than applying some fresh make-up to a raddled countenance, and that they must do much better than the artistic guddle they have so far produced?
I seem to remember at the time when the government first announced the need to restructure Air Malta, one of the ministers involved famously said that he did not want a Maltese cuc in charge. Let us fervently hope that they have not simply hired at great expense some foreign ones.