Passengers Have Had Enough Of Wacky Airline Safety Videos Airline passengers are often wary of corny safety videos on flights. NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter Scott McCartney about those videos.

Passengers Have Had Enough Of Wacky Airline Safety Videos

Passengers Have Had Enough Of Wacky Airline Safety Videos

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Airline passengers are often wary of corny safety videos on flights. NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter Scott McCartney about those videos.


How to buckle a seat belt, where to find an inflatable vest, what will happen in the event of an emergency landing - the familiar drone of airline safety tips that wash over you while you're trying to read your Stephen King or grab some sleep or let a Xanax kick in. Of course, you can find more information in the seat pocket in front of you. So to grab your attention, airlines made safety videos. And then came videos that tried to be entertaining. Here's a Virgin America video.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) So won't you whoo (ph) buckle your seat belt, put it on tight and keep your whoo in that chair until we turn off that light. Turn your electrical devices off...

SIEGEL: And here's the start of an Air New Zealand hobbits-themed safety video.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Welcome to Middle Earth, my friend. I'm here to guide you on your journey. So cease your rabble-rousing and listen very carefully and obey all crew member instructions...

SIEGEL: And she does that with pointed ears and everything. Joining us now is Scott McCartney, who writes "The Middle Seat" travel column for The Wall Street Journal. Hiya.

SCOTT MCCARTNEY: Hi, how are you?

SIEGEL: And we're calling on you in your new role as airline safety video critic.

MCCARTNEY: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: When did these films start appearing?

MCCARTNEY: They really go back to about 2008 and 2009. Delta started having a little fun with a flight attendant who became known as Deltalina for sort of aggressively wagging her finger at no smoking. But in 2009, Air New Zealand painted crew members with body paint and nothing else and did a safety video called "Bare Essentials," which got a lot of attention. And that led them down the path of lots of others and airlines started copying it.

SIEGEL: Now, we should point out that this is a very unusual art form because you really can't monkey around with the text. I mean, you're required to say some things on the airplane.

MCCARTNEY: Yeah. The federal regulations in the U.S. require very specific wording on some of these instructions such as how to buckle your seat belt, which turns out to be a fairly important safety instruction. So as the FAA says, as long as they hit those marks, as long as they use the proper wording, they can do anything else they want. And the FAA has never studied whether these things are effective but has approved them all along.

SIEGEL: Well, what do you think? I mean, apart from passengers feeling, you know, wow, this is a cooler airline than most if that's their safety video. Do people pay more attention, do you think, to a video that has an entertainment value?

MCCARTNEY: I think they do. And we know that mostly anecdotally. You know, the airlines do keep track of these things. And flight attendants do pay attention to who's watching and who's not. After you've seen the cute kid doing the rap about cabin pressure for the 50th time, you tune it out just like you tuned out the old safety briefings. But the real question with these is even if you pay more attention, what do you take away from it? And the problem with humor is that people remember the jokes but not the safety message.

SIEGEL: How important are these announcements? I mean, you could look at them and say, well, gee, it's not that hard to figure out how to open up a safety belt or how to close one.

MCCARTNEY: And it turns out that it really is important. In an emergency, you revert to what you know. So like with seat belts, what you know is your car and you punch a button. That's different from the airplane. So there have been emergency evacuations where people have been stuck in their seats. Even a pilot in one case, people who are very familiar with flying. It's similar with life vests, where you have to buckle that strap around your waist. In the US Air 1549 that crashed into the Hudson River, only four passengers out of 150 actually properly got on a life vest. And so all those reminders people didn't pay enough attention to.

SIEGEL: Scott McCartney, thanks for talking with us.

MCCARTNEY: Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: Scott McCartney writes "The Middle Seat" column for The Wall Street Journal. He spoke to us from Dallas.

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