Virgin America, the airline that invented the sassy in-flight safety video, has rolled out a brand new sassy in-flight safety video: A live-action musical number. It's still heads and shoulders above most airlines, but is it the best?
Airline safety videos have been around as long as in-flight entertainment systems but have really only taken off in the last few years. They're also ridiculously hard to get right. Because they're delivering what could possibly be the driest, most boring content that everyone thinks they've heard a million times before, they have to be interesting enough so people actually watch them, and also appeal to the widest possible demographic. That's why good airline safety videos are so rare.
Here's a brief history of innovative in-flight safety demonstrations so you can see how Virgin's new spectacle matches up. To compare and contrast with what you'll get on other airlines, check out this yawnfest video from American Airlines.
Virgin America (2007)
It was Virgin America's original 2007 video that transformed the genre, allowing the boring monologue to deviate from FAA-speak. The scruffy characters and dry humor are courtesy of a branding firm named Anomaly and animators Gordon P. Clark, Nick Hewitt and Mike Overbeck. In a 2012 interview, Clark told Smithsonian Magazine that the style was inspired by the kind of "idle doodling" one might do on a plane. Clark also serves as the narrator, delivering the greatest line in the history of airline safety: "For the .0001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this."
There's nothing terribly inventive about the safety video that Delta released in 2008, except for the redhead chick with a serious case of duck face, who went on to develop some kind of cult following. Katherine Lee is an actual Delta employee and became known as Deltalina (like Angelina Jolie). She now tweets under that name, where her bio says this: "I'm a fun stew that enjoys every moment of this great life. I'm always looking for the next adventure:)"
Air New Zealand (2009)
Not to be one-upped by its Northern hemisphere competition, those dirty kiwis got plenty of attention when they launched this NAKED airline safety video. Actually, it's just real crew members wearing body paint and delivering the "bare essentials" of safety. It sounds more scandalous than it actually is, but Air New Zealand got tons of press for this gag, which inspired them to up their game (see below).
V Australia (2009)
In this 2009 video, Virgin's Australian cousins also use cartoons to get passengers' attention, but in a less endearing way than Virgin America. Overall, it's really just the same as Virgin's other animated video, with more annoying characters and an Australian accent. Richard Branson makes a cameo at 00:45.
Cebu Airlines (2010)
While not technically a video, the flight attendants on Cebu Airlines are worth a look. They still do a live safety demonstration, but just when you think it's gonna be all straight up boring, a voiceover booms into the cabin, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry play in the background, and they all start dancing sexy. This got my attention, maybe more than a video would.
Air New Zealand (2011)
Air New Zealand released a new video in 2011 that starts promisingly enough with two perky kiwis. But then. But THEN. It has Richard FUCKING Simmons, you guys! Maybe it's because Simmons' workout moves work so well when describing in-flight safety features—grab, click, pull!—or because I find him to be ridiculously watchable, but this is absolutely how I want to get my information about how to evacuate in the event of a water landing.
Bangkok Airways (2012)
Virgin America claims its new video is the first to be set to music but the real innovators here are the brave folks at Bangkok Airways, who produced this autotuned song and dance that is more like a love song to you, dear passenger: The moon will rise/The sun will set/I can take you anywhere/You're my blue sky. I think it's maybe supposed to be a karaoke video? And you're supposed to sing along? And maybe that's what the poorly dubbed voiceovers are supposed to be doing? Karaoke?
As usual, Delta is trying way too hard. Last year they ditched Duck Face for this not-very-clever "twist" on the traditional attendant-narrated video where they've added all sorts of supposedly comical details. (A guy is trying to stow a painting of a suitcase! A robot has to turn himself off!) It doesn't work, it's not funny, and Duck Face makes a cameo at 1:35, which ruins it for me.
Air New Zealand (2012)
Nerds are five times as likely to fly Air New Zealand after this Hobbit-themed safety video was released in 2012, featuring cameos by Sir Peter Jackson and Gollum. Even the pilot is this shaggy fella who I assume is supposed to be a distant cousin to Gandalf. But all that latex and fake foot hair can't save this video, since the dialogue and humor doesn't quite cut it. Also the flute music started to drive me nuts around three minutes in.
Air Arabia (2012)
Kids! Everyone loves to watch kids, right? Because of course children should be the ones explaining all sorts of technical information they can't even pronounce. Air Arabia wants to make this work, they really do, but it just comes off weird. You know what would actually be amazing? Kid flight attendants. They wouldn't take up as much space!
Air New Zealand (2013)
Okay, by now you've figured out that Air New Zealand releases a new video every year, and the 2013 version, released this month, is pretty good: Betty White making fun of old people, which is always funny. What's great about this video is that it doesn't take place on a plane at all, which temporarily removes you from the restrictive context of your middle seat.
Virgin America (2013)
The opening song is super snappy, and the people are nice to look at, but Virgin's new video quickly dissolves into some kind of America's Got Talent show with rapping kids and dancing nuns. (What is it about nuns with electronics that Richard Branson thinks is so damn funny?) Clocking in at five minutes, it's also far too long and has too many "wacky" characters—honestly, they lost me as soon as I saw contortionists. It feels like an episode of Glee that just won't end. They even reprise the seatbelt line in the new video, but it's not the same without the deadpan delivery and quirky characters. I prefer the 2007 version to Virgin: The Musical. It's clever but not so in-your-face. I miss it already.
Of course, the new ruling from the FAA that you no longer need to power down and stow your electronic devices during takeoff and landing means all these safety videos will need some editing. Hopefully that will inspire a few of the more staid airlines to try a different approach.