The first time I discovered that I’d left my mobile phone switched on during a flight, I imagined the pilots struggling to stay in control of the plane as my incoming emails wreaked havoc on cockpit communications, and I rushed to switch it to aeroplane mode before a flight steward tracked the offender in seat 63D. The second time, I thought: Really?
Without buying into the science of electromagnetics, forgetful passengers can be confident that a call from the office won’t bring down a modern plane, but there is a lot of time to contemplate the odds of this when you’re stuck in a flying cylinder with 484 other passengers, watching a safety video.
The on-board safety video is like a Rorschach test for the emotional state of passengers. Nervous flyers must view these videos as if they are the last images they will see on this earth. Who knew there were so many ways for a flight to go wrong? Some bugger will light up a cigarette in the toilet and, bam, the alarms will go off, flight attendants will be banging on the door and it’s all over. Some fancy woman won’t take off her heels and you’ll be facing a deflated slide into the roiling ocean below. And forget about snakes on planes, the danger of phones down seats is the stuff of movies.
More rational flyers will view these videos as a challenge. Smoking on planes, didn’t we all do that in the 1970s? Turning phones to aeroplane mode, isn’t that just a way to sell in-flight Wi-Fi packages? And the whistle on the lifejacket wouldn’t rouse a toddler, much less the captain of a container ship passing passengers paddling in the ocean 300m below. Still, you’ve got to support the function of oxygen masks, particularly when you’ve had too many gin and tonics and need a quick pick-me-up before landing.
But most passengers will view these videos as a boring interruption to the in-flight entertainment, which is why airlines are spending lots of money to create videos that their captive audience will watch — and hopefully remember when under stress.
Air NZ is probably the best-known producer of in-flight safety videos, if only because you get the impression the Kiwis don’t take it too seriously. In fact, the Civil Aviation Authority had a go at the airline for too much extraneous material in its Safety Safari video, given you could scarcely see the seatbelts for the surf tricks. So successful has Air NZ been that its safety messages have been viewed almost 100 million times on YouTube by people who aren’t strapped in and facing imminent danger. Little wonder that last month the airline again took out the coolest safety video award run by APEX.
Qantas came to the party a bit later than other airlines but now brings out a new safety video every year, accompanied by media releases and film credits. Its latest video explains seatbelts from a New York taxi, oxygen masks from a South American mountain, the brace position via a Chinese tai chi class and the phone down the seat dangers through an African safari. Would you risk retrieving a phone from under the trunk of a wild elephant?
The genre of safety videos has so captured the ad industry that it employs award-winning directors, actors, comedians, dance companies, special effects, musicians, writers and motion capture technology not just to promote safety but to brand the airline and boost tourism — which is a bit like making an OHS manual into a spy novel. And good on them, because while passengers are unlikely to choose an airline on the strength of its safety videos, they might rate the airline higher on the basis of how bored they were while strapped in as captive audiences.
Which is why my recent experience of the genre was such a disappointment. It didn’t have comics, dancers, pretty French women, New Zealand rugby players, celebrities or funny lines.
That safety video was more like a crime scene re-enactment, which might be why I spent the whole time questioning its presumptions.
If you’re a real critic of these videos, there’s one question you have to ask: What is the biggest danger faced by people flying on planes today? It isn’t dropped phones. It isn’t heels on slides or passengers who hug their loved ones rather than their knees in emergencies. It’s something that belongs to the horror genre. And nobody wants to see that on a plane. gmail.com