A new Thai airline is hiring transsexual ladyboys as flight attendants, aiming at a unique identity to set itself apart from competitors as it sets out for the skies.
Known as "katoeys" or "ladyboys," transgenders and transsexuals have greater visibility in Thailand than in many other nations, holding mainstream jobs in a variety of fields. They are especially common in cosmetics shops or health stores, which almost always have a ladyboy shop assistant.
PC Air, a charter airline set to start operations on Asian routes in April, originally planned only to hire male and female flight attendants. But it changed its mind after receiving more than 100 job applications from transvestites and transsexuals.
Four were chosen, along with 19 female and 7 male flight attendants. "When I knew that I got this job, I burst into tears because I'm very happy," said 24-year-old Chayathisa Nakmai.
"I had sent many applications to different airlines."
The airline said that the qualifications for the ladyboy flight attendants were the same as for female flight attendants, with the additional provisos that they be like women in how they walk and talk, and have a feminine voice and the right attitude.
Though there is very little discrimination against ladyboys in Thailand, they are not officially recognised as women and their identification cards will always say "male."
While the airline strives for equality, PC Air president Peter Chan, who chooses the transsexual cabin crew himself, said he needed to spend longer with interviews for such applicants. "For male flight attendants, if I don't want to hire them, it's because of their attitude or their characters, like the way they walk and smile. For female flight attendants, if they have no patience and their character does not qualify, we won't hire them," he added.
"For transsexuals, we can't just spend 5 or 10 minutes with them, we have to spend the whole day with them to make sure they have feminine characters."
The airline says it may hire more flight attendants from the "third gender" in the future since the Department of Civil Aviation has no objections.
Though excited by the opportunity, the transsexual flight attendants said they were aware they needed to prove themselves.
"People will keep their eyes on us... There will be more pressure," said Dissanai Chitpraphachin, 23, who was crowned as Thailand's most beautiful transvestite in 2007.
"We have to prepare ourselves more than the women."
The airline is initially set to fly to South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.