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Friday, December 10, 2010

Married at 35,000 Feet: The SAS "Love Flight"



By Clark Massad, IGLTA European Ambassador
Getting married used to be about getting to the chapel on time. For Scandinavian Airlines, it’s also about getting a boarding pass, clearing security, and getting to the gate on time. And being on time is very important for Europe’s most punctual airline, especially when you’re celebrating the world’s first in-flight gay and lesbian weddings.

The SAS “Love Flight” – SK903 between Stockholm and New York on Dec. 6, 2010 – was the climax of an extremely successful social media campaign that attracted more than 300 couples to compete, all vying to be remembered as the first same-sex couple to be married in the air.

It all began with an idea from SAS PR Director Anders Lindström who originally conceived the contest as a traditional public-relations campaign, with SAS choosing the winners. After discussing his idea with colleague Chistina Ericsson, the two decided to “take it social” and wanted to see if the idea to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies at 35,000 feet would actually take off.

A landing page was created, and the phrase “SAS hopes to celebrate the first same-sex marriage in the air” was dropped onto Facebook pages in Tokyo, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. The trial balloon took flight and within 65 minutes, British Blogger Stephen Fry had re-tweeted the phrase to his then 1.7 million followers. Two hours later, five couples had already submitted their entries.

In all, more than 450,000 unique visitors came to the SAS “Love is in the Air” website and more than 350,000 votes were cast. SAS estimates that more than 120 million people worldwide heard or read about the campaign through the extensive social media and traditional media coverage that included Facebook, Twitter, online news, print news, TV, radio and bloggers, thus making this one of the most buzzed-about social media campaigns.

"[This] is a very important market for any travel company, and we felt we wanted to show our support to the LGBT community in a greater way than just traditional marketing. With this campaign, people all over the world got involved, which we would never have been able to do with traditional marketing,” says Anders Lindström.

The winning couples, Aleksandar Mijatovic & Shantu Bhattacherjee from Germany and Ewa Tomaszewicz & Gosia Rawińska from Poland, amassed more than 80,000 votes each and were treated to a mid-air wedding hosted by SAS.

Under the best of circumstances, organizing a wedding ceremony is no small feat. But organizing a wedding ceremony for two couples in the business class cabin of an A340 while taking into consideration all the security and safety restrictions is a real challenge. But as one of the world’s most innovative airlines, SAS was up to the task. SAS employees at all levels – from ground personnel to cabin crew – pitched in to make the Love Flight a unique and memorable experience.

The day started with VIP check-in at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, where the winning couples were whisked through Fast-Track Security and escorted to the SAS Business Class Lounge, specially decorated for the occasion. Champagne was served, photos were taken, interviews were conducted and the participants were briefed on the day’s events. Shortly thereafter, the wedding guests were pre-boarded.

A re-penned version of Cabaret’s “Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome” sung by the cabin crew replaced the traditional wedding march as the couples walked down the jetway. Inside the aircraft, the already luxurious business class cabin of the A340 had been decorated with white zinnias on the aisles and a heart-shaped wreath on the forward bulkhead. Cabin crew wore white corsages, and white orchids adorned the galley walls. Even the business-class lavatories were decorated with white roses.

The couples took their places in the center seats of the first two rows, with their friends and members of the press occupying the other 30 flat-bed seats. More champagne was served as John Paul Young’s 1978 worldwide hit “Love is in the Air” was played over a sound-system that had been cleverly concealed in a service trolley. Although the party had begun, the flight attendants – who had all volunteered to work this flight – still managed to get everyone seated and buckled-in for departure.



The ceremonies, presided over by Christofer Fjellner, the youngest member of the European Parliament, took place just minutes after takeoff from Arlanda, while the airplane was still in Swedish airspace. Luckily, Sweden’s official wedding ceremony is quite short, with the “long version” clocking in at just a few minutes.

At approximately 11:31am, Aleks and Shantu said said “I do” at 23,000 feet over the Swedish city of Borlänge, thus making them the first gay-couple to be wed in the air. Minutes later, Ewa and Gosia became the first lesbian couple to be married in air.

After exchanging rings and vows, the newlyweds were toasted with a “Love is in the Air” cocktail consisting of champagne and Cloudberry liqueur, followed by a multi-course wedding dinner. The cabin crew once again surprised the couples with a “wedding rap” inspired by the event, and there was even the traditional first dance followed by wedding cake and a showering of gifts, including replicas of the SAS A340 on which the words Just Married had been inscribed.

While aviation-themed weddings are quite popular in Sweden – more than 500 marriages are performed in Arlanda Airport’s chapel every year, with the newlyweds jetting off on honeymoons immediately thereafter – mid-air marriages are rare. “We are extremely proud to be the first airline to host not only the world’s first mid-air same-sex wedding, but both the first gay and first lesbian wedding. As the national airline of the world’s three most progressive countries, we felt it was completely natural to also be the first with this,” says Anders Lindström, PR Director, Scandinavian Airlines.

Scandinavian Airlines is owned by the governments of Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, three of the world’s most progressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights. Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex unions in 1989. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Sweden since May 2009, and Finland is on track to adopt same-sex marriage laws in early 2012.

However, not one of the three winning couples lives in a country where same-sex marriage is universally recognized. Germany has registered partnerships since 2001, but Poland does not yet allow civil unions for same-sex couples, despite ongoing debate in Parliament since the year 2000. In the U.S., same-sex marriage is currently legal in only five states.

“We are getting married today in honor of all the same-sex couples in Poland that cannot yet do this,” said Ewa and Gosia, expressing their hopes that “one day in Poland we will have a normal country where everyone that loves each other can just get married.”

Upon arrival in Newark, the celebration continued with a reception hosted by Visit Sweden at Ramscale Studios in New York. The couples honeymooned at the W Hotel in New York and enjoyed a VIP package to the Broadway hit La Cage Aux Folles. The honeymoon continued to Los Angeles with three nights at the luxurious Andaz West Hollywood, a commitment ceremony and a unique honeymoon package from West Hollywood Marketing & Visitors Bureau.

SAS also held a U.S.-based version of the competition with VisitSweden, which was won by Thomas Landreth and Brett Kessler of North Carolina. Brett and Thomas departed for Stockholm on the returning flight to be married at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, where they will have their commitment ceremony followed by a honeymoon in Stockholm.

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