Safety Video Hell

Here, have a look at the new pre-flight safety video from Virgin America…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg&feature=youtu.be

 

THE IDEA, I think, is that you’ll come away thinking Wow, like, that’s so edgy and cool and fun.

I came away tired and looking for an aspirin.

They took a somewhat entertaining idea and made a monster out of it. The video runs for an excruciating five minutes. Imagine being a Virgin America frequent flyer — or employee — and having to listen to that thing over and over and over and over. The cabin crew are going to need counseling.

Airline safety briefings are a kind of legal fine print come to life. They do contain some important and useful info, but it’s so layered in babble that people tune out and ignore the entire thing. “Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying a lavatory smoke detector.” What’s wrong with,”Tampering with a lavatory smoke detector is prohibited.” And do we really need a full dissertation on the finer points of attaching and inflating a life-vest — overly detailed instructions that nobody is going to remember if the vests are actually needed? Merely setting all of this ornamental gibberish to music does not make it more compelling or palatable. It also undermines the briefing’s potential value. It also undermines the whole purpose of the briefing. If safety is really the point, the briefing should be taken seriously. Here, you’re watching it for fun, not to actually learn anything that might save your life.

Here’s a better idea: shrink it. Hit the bullet points and never mind the rest. In the interest of both safety and sanity, no pre-flight demo, be it a video or the old-fashioned “live” version, should be more than a minute or so long. If you insist on being cute, please do it in 60 seconds or less.

Flying is a noisy enough experience as it is, and airline passengers are already “talked to” enough, from the barrage of public address announcements in the terminals to the various on-board spiels. (On the last long-haul flight I took, the first 25 minutes after takeoff were nothing but PAs.) We don’t also need five minutes of singing and dancing.

Carriers spend a lot of money putting these videos together. They’re helpful, I guess, for generating publicity and a bit of social media buzz — one can argue that’s the entire point. But the novelty wears off quickly. I’m all for airlines thinking outside the box and getting creative. We need more of that, frankly. Just not like this.

 

Yikes, and I seem to be in the minority here. Last I looked, Virgin America’s YouTube video has ten times as many thumbs-up as thumbs-down, and now my esteemed fellow blogger Christine Negroni has given it her blessings!

 

For more on safety demos, seat-pocket briefing cards and public address announcements, see chapter five of my book.

 

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65 Responses to “Safety Video Hell”
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  1. Luis says:

    As a very nervous flyer, I really appreciate virgin America’s Safety video. It’s a nice way to start your journey, relax and not worry about the fact that you’re about to take off and hand your life over to a stranger. It had such a comforting effect on me, that I can appreciate the effort, and actually kind of look forward to my flight every time.

  2. Nik says:

    What about a “safety certification” course?

    I’d love to take a day where there are practical examples of using a life vest, mask, the slides, the doors, the rafts, proper seating positions and the exits / lights etc.

    That certification should be giving preferred status for exit rows!

  3. James David Walley says:

    Oy! But the time that video ends, you’ll have already landed!

    Seriously, the only thing that could have made it more annoying would have been Miley Cyrus twerking. With dancing sharks.

  4. KA says:

    I’m trying to remember if it’s Delta or American (possibly both) that has a funny video… doesn’t go on and on like this one, but is entertaining (the one I saw most recently had a big strong guy asking for reassignment from an exit row , then replaced with someone who appears much less muscular). I really enjoyed them, and if they changed them up some I think more people would pay attention just to get a chuckle…

  5. Wol says:

    I could not agree more with Patrick.

    If safety videos are to have any relevance at all they need to be treated seriously, not as a mild form of entertainment.

    Air New Zealand get a lot of thumbs up for their efforts – I think they are an abomination and give the impression that the airline puts safety on the same level as Toy story 3. I sat through their latest one without even realising that it WAS a safety video – it seemed to be a trailer for a Hobbit movie so, since I was looking through the safety card at the time I paid it no attention except that the noise annoyed the hell out of me.

    Whether or not you think that safety videos have any effect (and it’s debatable) their intention is clear and making them entertaining is crass.

  6. Simon IOM says:

    City Wing based in the Isle of Man have a video with local children explaining the safety instructions, albeit they only fly 19 seat LET 410’s but although fresh and cute,I think it makes a nice relaxing atmosphere on the aircraft before take off but some might say does it detract from the potential serious consequences of not following the instructions correctly in case of an actual emergency??
    Also I agree with Patrick on the simple bullet point idea,but straight to the point maybe,
    “anyone caught meddling with smoke alarms or smoking will be jailed for a minimum of 30 years”
    ” In case of an emergency landing on water, Inflating your life jacket inside the aircraft will cause you to float, get jammed on the ceiling of the plane which will make it impossible for you and others to escape”
    And the most annoying to me as I have seen it come to light on recent incidents,
    “In case of an emergency evacuation, anyone stopping to retrieve personal belongings will be hopefully trampled on by everyone trying to escape quickly and safely”

    • Wol says:

      >>In case of an emergency landing on water, Inflating your life jacket inside the aircraft will cause you to float, get jammed on the ceiling of the plane which will make it impossible for you and others to escape<<

      That's my personal gripe. I would have them say "Do NOT inflate your life jacket until you are out of the aircraft (wreckage?) because if you do it inside you will drown."

  7. Martin says:

    I’m sure the seatbelt instructions date back to the 60’s, when they were a novel idea to (optionally) keep people from dying in their cars.These days, they are completely unnecessary, and make people tune out from the less familiar and more important information about oxygen masks and flotation devices. My daughter figured out the airplane seatbelt issue by 22 months old. Wouldn’t it be nice if the airlines could be allowed to figure out that the seatbelt instructions part of the announcement could be scraped and exactly zero people would die worldwide as a result?

    On the other hand, a nice video showing someone bouncing off a ceiling in clear air turbulence could be effective in getting people to keep their belts loosely strapped in flight. Having nearly hit the ceiling once while getting something from the overhead bin, and ending up in a heap on the floor, I’ve become a believer in having a device that keeps me from flying around the cabin. Too bad the safety video addresses the part that a baby can master, instead of the aspects that might be new to an adult.

    • Ben Miller says:

      Agree to a point, but aside from FARs requiring the seatbelt info, there are undoubtedly liability issues as well. And as a side note, in the Asiana crash at SFO the NTSB determined that all three fatalities were ejected from the airplane during the crash sequence because they were not wearing seatbelts…so it is not completely intuitive to people even in this day and age.

  8. Mark Maslowski says:

    This is the kind of stuff they need to do instead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07LFBydGjaM

  9. JuliaZ says:

    Five minutes is way TOO long but even as a frequent flyer, I ALWAYS pay attention to the demo and remind my neighbors to do so as well. I want to see and acknowledge the flight attendants. They are not drinks servants, they are highly trained people who will help save my life if it all goes to hell. I make eye contact. I listen, even though I could recite the whole thing. It puts me in the frame of mind to help myself if needed. I keep my shoes on until 10,000 feet. I also put my shoes back on at the final approach message. (Survivable crashed seem to mostly happen at takeoff and landing, and shoes are a good thing to help you get away from a plane quickly without shredding your feet). Call me paranoid… the chances of crashing on any given flight are incredibly small… but I want to increase my survival changes in any easy way open to me.

    So yeah, stupid trendy videos annoy me, but then, Virgin in general annoys me. I am Alaska loyal. They do a standard briefing in under 120 seconds and that’s fine with me. I can take my headphones off for that long. Yes, I get it on blowing into the tube on the life vests… on flights that nearly never cross water. So what. The way you learn to do the right thing in an emergency when your mind is not easily engaged is to have it by habit. Keep calm, listen to the FA, maybe survive. 120 seconds per flight is a GREAT investment towards that goal. There’s nothing else to do anyway and I like to give the FA moral support that comes from respecting them and the job they do.

    I’m that annoying person that says, “pay attention, this could save your life.” I don’t care if I’m a pest. LOL

  10. JennieB says:

    Well Patrick, I’m with you. That video is excruciating. I’m sure that not everyone flying with VA is under 35, and as an older traveller I find the music annoying. As a music video, it’s cute. As a safety video, it’s terrible.

    Any airline wanting to make an engaging safety video should take a leaf from Air New Zealand’s book. Their Middle-earth themed videos are classics that use humour to get the message across.

  11. Alex says:

    I was able to tolerate just 33 seconds of the YouTube video. Too bad there’s no Pause (or Stop) button in real life.

  12. Dan Ullman says:

    “Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying a lavatory smoke detector.”

    An ex-flight attendant I know would agree with you on this. He once said that all of the “Federal law prohibits” stuff should be made shorter. There wasn’t, in his mind, to warn these folks what sort of legal hell they are going to go through if they do such stuff.

  13. Greg says:

    I’m with you. Good lord, 5 minutes?? Also, that video had really some of the worst lip sync of all time.

    Utter nonsense.

  14. nicholas Robinson says:

    The Virgin thing is nausea inducing. I unfortunately have Virgin as my mobile phone operator here in Montreal and everything to do with them — from their biliously pathetic attempts to be hip in their customer service options: “Hey there! It’s time for that secure feeling! Please input your four-digit . . .” to their equally misguided attempts for their real-life customer reps “Hi there, this is Virgin Mobile, my name is Bruce and to whom am I speaking today . . .” in that smarmy, customer-service voice, only, times squared . . .

    Richard Branson should have his balls surgically shrunk until his bray is a squeak, and furthermore, he should not be allowed to kill any more test pilots.

  15. Darren says:

    I think the new United Airlines video is excellent!

    Even though I have seen it a lot of times recently on transatlantic flights, it keeps me engaged when I normally switch off for the safety initiation.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAAQ0ZZMyw

  16. Captain Cowell says:

    Ever since the introduction of safety videos I have been quietly concerned about the impact they are having on the travelling public. Traditional safety demonstrations are an excellent way of introducing cabin crew members to passengers in the section they are covering. They also suggest tactfully but firmly whose in charge of the cabin during the flight. In an emergency situation it is the leadership and people skills of the cabin crew which passengers will depend upon in order to survive either unscathed or to the best extent possible.

    So what are Carriers currently up to? Safety videos which take the sometimes critical leadership and authority aspects of the cabin crew being there at all completely out of the equation. It is no wonder passengers are just switching off and reaching for personal headphones as another boringly automated pre-flight video appears. Effective communication is already being eroded as passengers switch off mentally. With an already bad situation becoming even worse when (Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand … J’Accuse!) safety videos are over-lengthy littered with the trivial and the trashy.

    Before these videos were introduced there was an unwritten rule throughout the industry discouraging cabin crew members from smiling whilst conducting safety demonstrations. At all other times smiling was both encouraged and allowed except for this one gigantic no-no. All of this is IMHO of course but until recently I used to have to fly on a regular basis. Giving me plenty of opportunities to quietly observe who switched off mentally and when during time spent in the cabin. With my biggest concern sadly being … When will this worrying trend come back and bite the industry? January 30th 1974 (Pago Pago – Western Samoa) … August 3rd 1985 (Manchester – United Kingdom) … Just what shape and form will it take and just how adverse will what happens become? I sometimes dread to think.

  17. Wendi says:

    In my opinion, the seat belt part is completely unnecessary. Even if you are a first time flyer, its not that impossibly difficult to figure out how to use a seat belt. In the unlikely event that you haven’t. And if you haven’t managed to deduce that the thing works pretty much like every amusement park seat belt ride you’ve been on, there are people surrounding you that can probably help. The IQ of people hasn’t sunk that low… Yet…

  18. Carrie says:

    I confess that I’m a nervous flyer no matter what my rational self knows about the safety of flying, and I’m a rare one that actually listens to these announcements. Obsessively and superstitiously I listen to every single word every single time and then study the card in the pocket and find every exit. Whether I could remember all this in an actual emergency is debatable. On a recent flight I sat in an exit row for the first time, and spent much of the flight staring at the door and making sure I knew how to open it, picturing in my mind over and over how to open it in case I needed to, and looking around at other passengers trying to assess who would need the most help going down the chute. Sigh… no wonder I need a nap after I fly. Great leg room in that row, though!

  19. Jim Houghton says:

    What Patrick has said in the past that I fully agree with: don’t start the safety show with “how to buckle a seat belt.” It’s the simplest, most obvious thing people need to do. If you lead with “here’s how to breathe” people are going to assume the whole presentation is idiotically simplistic and tune out on what comes afterwards.

  20. Ian says:

    Well the announcements may be tedious, but for anyone who ignores them or stops to grab their carry- ons in an emergency: I’m going right through you. And I’m big enough to leave you behind.

  21. Chris says:

    I’m a frequent flyer on VA, I’ve experienced the video 6 times in the last 4 weeks. I already miss the old video.

  22. Jim says:

    and don’t forget if it is played on overseas flights, it will be repeated in German, French, Korean, Chinese, Japanese….

  23. Josh S says:

    Patrick, I could not agree more. Virgin’s original animated video is imaginative, endearing, and low-key. It revolutionized the genre, such as it is. This one is overwrought and looks like a bad outtake from “Glee” (which is, itself, three years past its prime, if it ever had one). In that sense, it’s not even “irreverent.” It’s as dull and mainstream as they come.

    Airlines need personality, but we don’t need them to be the friend who won’t shut up.

  24. Paul says:

    Give Virgin America credit for at least trying to keep people engaged and not resorting to the standard video of a CEO/pilot telling you how glad they are to be flying with them, followed by footage of flight attendants and passengers who have the personality of mannequins. That said, I’d rather see Delta or Air New Zealand’s safety videos than Virgin America’s – there’s a fine line between creative and annoying, and Virgin America crossed it in their video.

  25. Stu says:

    I like it. For those people who fly enough, they’ll ignore it just like any other pre-flight safety presentation. It’s entertaining to the casual flyers who are the ones who actually need the instruction.

  26. Ken Smith says:

    Does anyone remember PSA (Pacific Southwest Airways, I think)? Back in the 70’s/80’s they gave safety demos that were actually almost fun. “For those who haven’t ridden in a car since 1955, here’s how the seat belt works”. They might have gotten in some hot water with their irreverence but it made a boring ritual somewhat less so. I’m sorry they got bought out and dissolved many decades ago.

  27. flymike says:

    I LIKED it. I was tapping my foot and hoping it would last longer.
    It’s a lot more fun than the thing my airline subjects passengers to . . I thought the girls were very cute and had good moves, but I didn’t like the little kid in the stripes.
    More! We need more of these, maybe with a pole dance or something. . .

  28. As I watched the video unfold, I couldn’t help wondering: What planes does Virgin America fly where the seats are SO FAR apart?

  29. Dan says:

    This reminds me of the *one* safety talk I actually enjoyed. On a Southwest flight the (female) flight attendant said something like, “In the event of an unexpected change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the panel above you… If you are seated next to a child, next to someone who is acting like a child, or someone who is ignoring every word I say, adjust your own mask first and then assist your husband.”

  30. Johnathen Lieber says:

    I like the ones Delta put together, same message that the attendants say but with a little fun.

  31. JeffD says:

    I can’t wait to take my next Virgin flight. I mean, did you see how much space there was between seats? And how much legroom?

  32. James says:

    “One of the 0.0001% of the people who have not encountered a seat belt.”

    Heh. One in one-million. Based on the US population of 313,000,000, that assumes all but 313 people have; or, based on the US birth rate, one can expect to be flying within 40 minutes of birth…

    (I guess I did pay attention, once.)

  33. Ian MacDonell says:

    I remember a stewardess from KLM showing us how to put on a life vest for a flight that was going to take us over the North Atlantic in late November. I am sure she was required to but if we ever ditched there would be no survivors,lifebelt or not. For a laugh I would refer everyone to Bob Newhart’s classic, ” The Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Screen Door Company” for a flight announcement to end all flight announcements.

  34. Winston says:

    I fly over 100 segments per year and thankfully not on VX. Cute for the once a year flyer but this would drive me batty. 2 months of this and and I will be that guy on TV being dragged off a plane by local police for smashing every speaker in the passenger service units.

  35. Josh says:

    Patrick,
    Can you fill us in on the genesis of this standard announcement? My sense is that info like the seatbelt was from the stone age where few people travelled. Today, I would ignorantly posit that on any given flight, there are probably no more than 1-2 people who have NEVER flown before (and that is a generous estimate) and therefore could benefit from the seatbelt info. As for idiosyncracies of each plane, life vests are ALWAYS under the seat, and emergency exits are forward, aft and over the wings. Does it really vary that much aircraft to aircraft.
    Giving too much info is tantamount to none if people don’t listen anyway.

    • Mary @ Phibian says:

      Seems to me that for the small number of first time flyers a nice welcome to our airline package that includes this kind of info personalized to the flyer would be more effective AND provide better customer service to both groups.

  36. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    I hate being put in the position of defending the stupid and inane, yet here I am:

    1. Plane belt buckles do work differently from car buckles these days and a person flying for the first time might never have encounter one that works this way. Spending 30 whole seconds, which you know-it-alls are free to ignore, seems perfectly reasonable. All sorts of people fly these days, some very sophisticated and some just barely leaving behind the Stone Age. Friendly help is a nice, pleasant thing to do. Good Lord, are you people REALLY going to complain about someone being NICE?!?!

    2. Very few people are all that aware of their surrounding, let alone know well the differences between planes. I would bet fewer than half the people on any given passenger plane could correctly identify the maker of the plane they are on (and there are really only two), let alone the model. Taking a few minutes to familiarize oneself with where the floatation devices and exits are is likely a good idea. I have never heard any one exiting a plane during an emergency complaining about the wasted time watching the video.

    3. Many people have jobs where they must listen to announcements over and over and over. Frankly, I think the Macy’s employee who has to listen to Christmas music from, well, from the middle of last month until Dec. 25 has a much worse time than some airline employee listening to this ditty over and over. I’ll take this video five or six times a day over The Little Drummer boy fifteen times a day.

    4. There is, for many people, a rather large difference between Federal law prohibiting something and just some company rule. Whatever it takes to stop people from fiddling with the smoke detector is fine by me. Frankly, I’d just have the thing discharge a lethal shock, but I really hate smoking.

    5. If your worst experience on a flight is the safety video, you’ve had a good flight. Shut up and enjoy the increasingly rare experience these days.

  37. Thomas says:

    could not make it to the end of the video …. I do not fly often but when I do it is a long flight since I am based in Japan. I agree that United has a smarmy intro, always thought that Delta`s preflight video strikes a nice balance but have not been on Delta for a couple of years.

  38. S Fariz says:

    This is not a safety video!

    It’s a made for YouTube event masquerading as a safety video, because the fact is nothing gathers more free publicity than a stunt like this. It’s cost effective, and the potential reach of this video when it goes viral is far bigger than a simple ad on the television.

    Expect more “safety videos” like this to come real soon.

  39. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    It’s mind-boggling, not to mention mind-numbing. I guess I sort of enjoyed it, but if I had to sit through it (Return flight?) again, I would probably try to climb out the little window.
    This is the kind of thing you get from people so impressed with their own hipness that they lose sight of reality.
    I can’t wait to see the video on how to make a claim for a dead pet.

  40. Tod Davis says:

    At least the Air New Zealand ones are normally based around a particular theme and are normally witty. However this one looks like a bad pop video

  41. Yolanda Reid says:

    Awful. And the important messages get lost in the commotion. This dinosaur longs for good old-fashioned professionalism that provides important information seriously and sets a good example for already over-“energized” passengers.

    • Simon says:

      Couldn’t agree more.

      Is it a coincidence that a society that subjects themselves to this kind of “safety briefing” ends up putting a third of their children on ADD medication?

  42. Seamus says:

    Air New Zealand’s (equally long) are funny. Of course if subjected to them every day they would soon stop being funny.

  43. Phil Avery says:

    Patrick, I could not agree with you more. Shorter, with just the bullet points is all that should be needed, and even that will be ignored by most passengers. And while you’re at it, get rid of the parking at curbside announcements that get broadcast to the gate areas. Ridiculous! Thanks for what you do.

    • Patrick says:

      Yeah, I can’t stand those airports where they’re constantly blaring PAs about various parking rules — to people who are already in the terminal.

  44. Doris Walker says:

    What I’ve never quite figured out is why they waste time telling you how to buckle your seat belt. Come on! Not only do they show you this AFTER you are required to have it on, but who DOESN’T know how a seat belt works? I bet even Amish passengers have encountered these safety devices before.

    • Simon says:

      I wonder if this is a leftover from the days where they’d brief you at the gate or just around pushback when most people hadn’t yet had to buckle up.

      Nowadays the briefing is usually done during taxi, often just before reaching the runway threshold and ironically most of the stuff the briefing is supposed to explain, you’ve already had to have completed at least five minutes ago.

  45. MS42 says:

    Seems like many frequent fliers are donning headphones soon after boarding, so what’s the problem?

    • Patrick says:

      Well, why should they have to? Let’s create as much annoying racket as possible, and then if people want to, they can put headphones on?

      That’s not right.

  46. NB says:

    I’m glad I don’t fly VA regularly and have to listen to that more than once. Mind you, UA’s video is equally ghastly, with the smarmy CEO telling us how wonderful he and his airline are – often when his airline is midway through demonstrating how that’s emphatically not the case!!

  47. Eric Welch says:

    My favorite safety briefing was from a book. The pilot of a military transport announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be no safety announcement. The likelihood of this plane going down is tiny and if we do you might as well bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”

  48. Simon says:

    Thumbs down from me too.

    As somebody who flies a lot I want these messages (and all other PA’s) to be as terse as possible.

    Plus, either flight attendants are waiters or they are relevant to safety. In the latter case I don’t need them to be overtly over-sexualized, thank you.

  49. Jon Wright says:

    I am sure that the reason there are ten times as many thumbs-up as thumbs-down is because the people voting thumbs-up are not flyers. Just thinking about being stuck on a plane and having to endure that video once makes me tense up with apprehension.

  50. Tod Davis says:

    I love the videos that Air New Zealand put out

  51. Roger says:

    I’d much prefer they had the cards and videos available in the seating area before boarding. That would also be a far nicer place to actually try the lifejackets, put on masks, try opening a door, let people who have never done up a seatbelt do one etc. And for planes that have seat back screens (ie most outside of the US) the salient points can be displayed during boarding as a silent slideshow.

    As for the 25 minutes of PA chatter, international carriers are the worst since they repeat the long winded messages in multiple languages at multiple times in a flight. Why not let people read this on the screens where they can read at a time convenient to them, and advance at their own pace (some visa/customers briefings can be very confusing)? Run a banner across the bottom of the screen telling me duty free is available instead of a multi-minute multi-language interruption stating what was already obvious.

  52. Another Josh says:

    Eh. It doesn’t bother me as a passenger that much. This one is a bit over the top compared to most. I guess the only problem I have with it is the following:

    One thing that the safety presentation does is shows the flight attendants as an important and authoritative part of the flight crew, especially when passenger safety is an issue. Without it, most of the flying public only sees the attendants as food/beverage bringers, or basically wait-staff. Even if you don’t remember the details of the presentation during an emergency, you’ve been shown that the flight attendants are the people to look to and follow directions of in those instances, and it’s more subconscious than overtly stated.

    This video and others like it takes that and turns them into entertainers, and in my view somewhat lessens their apparent authority.

    • Rod Miller says:

      When easyJet started, its fligth attendants wore too-cool startrekoid T-shirts with company-coloured piping. These days, however the men wear white shirts and ties and the women the standard tunic with fluffy scarf. I’m sure this decision was taken to boost their authority.

      Whereas VA has apparently decided to undermine the authority of its own flight attendants with this silly, frivolous, jive-ass musical.

      Wonder what the Vatican makes of it.