The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

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.

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