Wacky in-flight videos: Game-changer or fad?

Wacky in-flight videos: Game-changer or fad?

Airlines' attempts to make safety videos watchable are redefining in-flight and marketing policy

In-flight safetyThe currency for quirky in-flight safety videos is brand identity and viral marketing.

Extreme screening measures coupled with more extreme cost-cutting by airlines have combined to make the average flight a mournful, tubular gulag.

But some carriers are trying to rate above average in the hearts and minds of passengers, with pre-flight videos that use cartoons, cute kids and celebrities of varying relevance to persuade travelers to take notice of important safety messages. And their numbers are growing.

Recently Qantas launched … then promptly grounded … a pre-flight safety video starring John Travolta that, like most of his work the last 15 years, wasn’t particularly well received — especially by real company pilots at risk of getting axed.

But efforts by other carriers like Air New Zealand (ANZ), Virgin, British charter service Thomson, Turkish airline Pegasus  and Tel Aviv-based Israir to attract the attention of passengers have fared much better. 

Celebrity fitness guru Richard Simmons gives an energetic performance for ANZ's safety video.

Who was first?

It’s hard to say who was first to make flight safety fun, but Virgin Atlantic is a good guess.

The airline’s initial effort, a crude animation back in 2006 depicting travelers going through the various in-flight procedures without hanging themselves from their drop-down oxygen masks, was among the first to document the joys of crash preparation.

But it was ANZ’s “Bare Essentials” video -- featuring real flight crews wearing nothing but body-painted uniforms -- in 2009 that made the existential dangers of high-altitude travel titillating.

In the video, essentially bare pilots, flight attendants and even the company’s CEO use strategically placed seat belts, tray tables and life vests to demonstrate their use while concealing their, er, sensitive instruments.

But why, given the increasing austerity of air travel, are some carriers going to such extravagant lengths for something as prosaic as the pre-flight process?

Bizarre = attention-grabbing

“Our crew had been commenting about how little attention was being paid to the standard safety video,” says ANZ spokesman Mark Street. “So we set out to change that.”

They’ve got people watching now, onboard and online. The “Bare Essentials” video sits at more than six million views on YouTube, while subsequent ANZ videos also number in the millions.

“For a small airline like ours, this provides us with greatly improved visibility on the global stage,” adds Street.

Far more visibility than a conventional safety video would have netted them, he goes on to say, and for “a lot less” than a television commercial typically costs.

For small airlines like ANZ, more than six million views on YouTube is nothing to sneeze at.Yeah, yeah, yeah, but are passengers getting anything more out of these videos than the occasional butt shot?

Marketing gold 

Street says great care was taken to clearly demonstrate procedures adherent to government guidelines, and Abby Lunardini at Virgin America (VA) says, “Based on the amount of positive feedback we receive on [VA’s current safety video], we absolutely feel like the format is more effective for the intended purpose.”

That’s corporate communications speak for “it’s working.”

If comments on YouTube are to be believed, she’s right. Of VA’s video, user Hoku51 says, “I fly all the time, but only when I fly VA do I actually pay attention to this because it's funny, yet appropriate.”

And of ANZ’s “Bare Essentials” video, jadefuchs0107 says, “makes you aktually watch it, great idea, think a lot of other airlines should follow, just addes a little smile to some boring flights.” [sic all]

Unintelligible passenger grammar notwithstanding, the response appears to be mostly positive.

Of course, little that is fun in this corporate world is done without some expectation of a return on investment, and in this case the currency is brand identity and viral marketing.

Selling the brand

Lunardini acknowledges that the VA video “has become one of our signatures,” while Street says that videos comprising ANZ’s “Nothing to Hide” campaign have enjoyed more than 12 million collective views on YouTube.

“From a viral media perspective,” he goes on to say, “these videos have been a big success, with millions watching them on YouTube and many tens of millions more reading, seeing and hearing about them because of resulting mainstream media interest.”

YouTuber James18142 agrees: “Wow the amount of views on this video is greater than the population of nz.” [sic]

In March, ANZ enlisted exer-guru Richard Simmons for its “Fit to Fly” safety video and the skies have never been more desperately friendly.

The video is averaging more than half a million views a month since its introduction on YouTube and the media coverage surrounding it amounts to hundreds of thousands of results on Google.

Next up?

So is this the future of the pre-flight process? Quirky safety video production is still kind of a frontier town, with airlines throwing all kinds of debris against the mountainside to see what sticks, but it’s definitely here to stay for at least some airlines.

“That is really the idea behind our airline,” Virgin’s Lunardini says. “To help turn something that flyers have typically come to dread into something more fresh and modern.”

So, what was once a staid, vapid rite of carriage will no longer be ignored.

One day there will likely be a standard for droll flight safety videos that people will again ignore, but for now, just sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. And the safety video. 


Long before embarking on a life of leisure and recreational crime fighting, Jordan devoted himself to the written, spoken and, during the occasional shower, harmonized word. He is currently based in the U.S. following stints in Hong Kong and Florida, which he refuses to recognize as U.S. territory.

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