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Letter to Free Wives

Claim:   An airline promotion allows husbands to take their wives along on business trips for free, but a survey later conducted by the airline finds that 95% of the wives were unaware of the promotion.

LEGEND

Example:   [Reader's Digest, 1958]

When airlines were young and people were wary of flying, a promotion man suggested to one of the lines that they permit wives of businessmen to accompany their husbands free, just to prove that flying was safe. The idea was quickly adopted, and a record was kept of the names of those who accepted the proposition. In due time the airline sent a letter to those wives, asking how they enjoyed the trip. From 90 percent of them came back a baffled reply: "What airplane trip?"
 

Variations:   Early versions of this legend suggest that the offer of free tickets was dreamed up to demonstrate to women that the relatively new service of airline travel was safe, or that it was intended to induce the wives of newly-returned servicemen to try commercial flights. Later versions omit this detail (and the free tickets) and simply present the promotion as a means of increasing business.

Origins:   No real-life basis for this legend has yet been found. Anecdotal
evidence (see Brunvand) indicates that the story started spreading around 1942, and the earliest known printed example appeared in a book published the following year. It most likely began as a tall tale or joke that circulated among airline employees and servicemen in the early days of World War II and eventually achieved legend status when it reached the outside world and was mistaken for a true story. Like most other legends involving adultery, it presents an infidelity revealed by some unlucky (for the adulterer) happenstance.

In 1967 United Airlines ran a "Take Me Along" campaign complete with advertisements featuring miniskirt-clad wives entreating their husbands to take them along with a zippy song-and-dance number. However, United's ad campaign did not offer free tickets or discounted fares, and this legend antedates it by more than twenty years.

Last updated:   22 April 2011

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (pp. 166-168).

    Lyon, Marguerite.   And So to Bedlam.
    Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943.   (pp. 280-281).

    Playboy.   "Party Jokes."
    October 1956   (p. 48).

    Reader's Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor.
    Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1958.   (p. 144).