All Aboard the Pink Flight

Advocate film critic Kyle Buchanan braves the Kathy Griffin–hosted Pink Flight on Air New Zealand and lives to tell a few tales.



The Arrival

Pink. It's a
color I associate with martinis, Hello Kitty, and Legally
but not an airplane. But then, as I step
into the pre-party for the Air New Zealand trip known as the
Pink Flight, I notice that there are a lot of things about
this flight that you don't normally associate with air
travel. After all, on what other plane ride would
comedian Kathy Griffin be my flight's host, or a
roster of drag queens serve as flight attendants?

"Air New Zealand
is used to doing things differently, as you can see by
tonight," says Jodi Miller, who handles marketing for the
airline. She gestures to the party going on around us
in what would normally be a quiet gate at the San
Francisco airport. It's the sort of scene you'd
normally see in a gay club -- a crowd of good-looking men, a
well-stocked bar, drag queens milling about -- and
that's exactly the intent. The plane's eventual
destination is gay Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia, and
by putting on such a flamboyant flight, Air New Zealand
hopes to capture a piece of the lucrative gay travel

Conceived by an
Air New Zealand crew member, the inaugural Pink Flight
took off last year from Auckland to Sydney. "We thought,
well, that was pretty good -- but what about San
Francisco to Sydney?" says Miller. Expanding on the
concept to fill a 13-hour plane ride, Miller has put
together a flight plan that could make even the characters
from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert seem butch. In
addition to Kathy and the drag queens, there are feather
boas, an in-flight movie menu that promises a full
assortment of gay classics, and a pink gift bag --
modeled after a 1950s bowling bag -- stuffed with skin
products and pom-poms (and, it must be noted, a copy of
The Advocate).

After a series of
musical performances from our flight attendants (a
group of New Zealand drag queens named Buckwheat, Miss
Ribena, Tess Tickle, and Venus Mantrapp), the
passengers gather at the far end of the gate, where
Kathy Griffin stands, ready to take their ticket. "I'm
like the fuckin' greeter at the Gap," she moans, cracking
jokes in front of a group of cameramen (some shooting
the star for the fourth season of her Bravo series
My Life on the D-list). Griffin is quick
with a quip until she's stymied by the passenger in
front of me -- one of the few straight women attempting to
board. "You're not a gay man!" she says.

The Plane

The plane is only
one half to two thirds full, but the mood is still
festive, and no one minds the extra leg room. There is one
empty seat separating me from my closest neighbor, a
blond 23-year-old journalist named Cameron who writes
for Australia's DNA magazine. Cameron is quite
intercontinental -- he names Brisbane and Madrid as
his two homes, though this will be his first trip back to
Australia since the last Mardi Gras.

Behind us is
Mark, a self-proclaimed circuit party veteran from San
Diego. "I've been to every circuit party in the U.S.," he
tells us, and I'm convinced -- especially when a
well-muscled flight attendant walks down the aisle and
does a double take in front of Mark, claiming that
they've met before. "Was it at gay Mardi Gras last year?"
asks Mark. The flight attendant thinks for a bit. "No, it
was on the Atlantis cruise ship!" That Mark gets
around. His first gay Mardi Gras in Sydney was last
year -- "It's the best in the world" -- and he said he
immediately booked his ticket back the day after. He'd
intended to fly Qantas, but the Air New Zealand tickets were
considerably less expensive and offered the fun
bonuses to boot.

I talk to
unassuming Jordan, a man sitting by himself to my right.
This will be Jordan's first gay Mardi Gras, and the
rowdy Pink Flight pre-party has already opened his
eyes. "When I first came in, I was a little
shell-shocked," he admits. He recalls Buckwheat's vivid
pre-flight performance of "One Night Only" from
Dreamgirls. "She was in this gold, shiny
mermaid dress," he says, then deadpanning: "She's not a
small woman. It was a lot of shimmer."

As the plane
takes off, the drag queens make their first sashay down the
aisle, passing out incoming passenger cards and salacious
come-ons. Even the flight's regular crew members
aren't immune to the double entendres as the drag
queens check to make sure seat belts are fastened with a
lascivious "Nice and tight. Oh, we like it tight."

We also have our
first celebrity sighting, according to Mark. "That's
Kathy Griffin's assistant! She has her own fan club," he
informs us. As Jessica walks down the aisle past us
(in a fetching zebra-print blouse), Mark flags her
down. "You're Kathy Griffin's assistant," he says.
"You have your own fan club." She assents to the former,
though she was unaware of the latter. This is her first time
traveling to Sydney. "But I've seen it on The Real
" she hastens to add.

Tags: Travel