From March 5, 2010 USATODAY
"Since its humiliating bankruptcy in January, Japan Airlines has faced mass layoffs, customer fury and national shame, but its worst nightmare may yet lie ahead: a potentially thriving black market for the uniforms worn by its air stewardesses." That's from The Times of London, one of numerous media outlets reporting that demand from fetishists and sex clubs has forced ailing JAL to work to keep its flight attendant uniforms from falling into the wrong hands.
The problem may be bigger than most would initially think. Scott Mayerowitz of ABC News reports that "in Japan plenty of people are willing to pay top dollar for an experience with a club entertainer clad in an authentic Japan Airlines flight attendant uniform." He adds "people have been known to pay thousands of dollars for the outfits of JAL and rival airline All Nippon Airways, or ANA."
Airlines officials are not only concerned that the issue could tarnish the company's corporate image. ABC's Mayerowitz writes "outside of the fetish factor, JAL worries that in the wrong hands, missing airline uniforms could pose a security risk."
Indeed, an unnamed JAL spokeswoman tells the London Telegraph: "It's a question of security, as anyone wearing a JAL uniform at an airport could quite easily access restricted areas, but we also do not want people misrepresenting the company or damaging our image in any way."
The Telegraph adds JAL has warned its staff not to sell their uniforms, "fearing that laid-off air crew could try to auction their old stewardess outfits on the internet for a profit." How much could the uniforms fetch? Britain's Sky News writes "Asahi Geinō, a weekly tabloid magazine, reports that a rare full set is on sale on Yahoo Japan's auction site for over £2,000 and there are suggestions the latest uniform could fetch even more." In case you're wondering, £2,000 is about $3,010 at today's conversion rate.
To fight the "new flood of uniforms on to the black market," the Telegraph reports JAL is considering sewing tracking computer chips into its uniforms. Fellow Japanese carrier ANA – which faces similar problems – already does that. In the meantime, an unnamed JAL spokesperson tells the Times that the carrier has a series of measures that make it "virtually impossible for an individual to hold on to their uniform after they have left their job."
Still, the spokesperson acknowledges to the Times that at least one uniform belonging to a business-class attendant hit the black market a few years ago after it was reported as stolen. The carrier's solution in that instance? It paid nearly $2,000 to buy it back off the black market.