HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam's budget airline has apologised for sending scantily clad models to join the country's under-23 men's football squad on a flight home, after social media cried foul over the "cheap" public relations (PR) stunt.
VietJet - best known for its bikini-clad air hostesses - came under fire for sending models in barely there costumes to join the footballers heading home from China, where the team suffered a 2-1 defeat after extra time by Uzbekistan in the Under-23 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Championship on Saturday (Jan 27).
Social media in the communist nation erupted over the photos, including one of an awkward-looking young man being embraced by a model in a low-cut silver belly top and red underpants.
Others showed the sequin- and feather-adorned pin-ups posing on the private flight that VietJet chartered for the team after the tournament.
The event captivated football-mad Vietnam and elevated the athletes to national heroes.
But netizens in Vietnam were not impressed with the airline models.
"VietJet's move was so rude, cheap, and offensive to the team, the fans and even its passengers," Facebook user Nguyen My Linh wrote in a post that received 1,700 likes and more than 100 shares by midday on Monday.
Though the airline has grabbed headlines by staffing some of its inaugural flights with air hostesses in nothing more than bikinis, many online users said it was inappropriate to send the lingerie models to accompany the young men.
"It's disgusting. I will boycott VietJet for this," Le Nguyen, an office worker, told AFP on Monday.
The players were treated to a rock-star welcome after they returned home on Sunday. Hordes of flag-waving fans packed the streets of Hanoi to catch a glimpse of the team, who were crushed by Uzbekistan's winning goal in the final minute of extra time.
VietJet apologised for the stunt on Sunday, saying it was an "improvised move" and not a well-thought out marketing strategy. It said "relevant staff" had been disciplined.