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As a fairly frequent passenger on airlines, I have often spent the safety demonstration time thinking about how they can make it better. Very few people watch the flight attendants when they do the talk and few seem to watch the new videos some planes have. As a technical communicator, I see this as a problem in need of a solution. After all, they are telling us things that could save our lives. And no matter how may times we’ve heard it, one more fresh repetition be what we need when the plane is crashing.

I was impressed when a Southwest flight attendant did one with lots of puns and jokes (“the smoking section is one the wing, where if you can light it you can smoke it”). This had many passengers laughing and paying attention. The freaky Delta woman in the new Delta videos makes me watch, but more because she just looks too weird.

However, Air New Zealand has a new video that should make people sit up, pay attention, and keep watching time and again. As part of their “nothing to hide” campaign, they have this “Bare Essentials of Safety” video. See how long it takes you to figure it out. Note: this is NOT a spoof.

I actually think, “nothing to hide” aside, this is one of the best safety videos I have seen. They explain some things, like the safety position, better than I have ever had explained to me, and cover other things, like row counting to the exit, which seems obvious, but I don’t think I’ve heard mentioned. Plus, the fact all the people look like they’ve got a funny secret going on (which they kind of do), make it fun to watch. And, it is short: 3:28.

So kudos to Air New Zealand for a safety video that is informative, effective, and should actually make people pay attention!

3 Responses to “This Airline Safety Video that should make people watch”

My colleague Ian Bogost has written about this:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4090/persuasive_games_this_is_only_a_.php

He questions the ultimate effectiveness:

“The pique works; we hear and see them (Rapper Steward is funny, Katherine Lee is beautiful). But what we attend to is not the material being delivered, but the manner by which it is delivered. I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles on Delta since Deltalina made her debut, but I still have no idea where to find my life vest (“Life vests are either between your seats, under your seats, or in a compartment under your armrest”). Never mind the eight steps required to don one properly.

The result is a kind of safety theater. Airlines perform the appearance of safety in order to comply with federal and international regulations while imposing the lowest cognitive and emotional burden possible on the passenger.

If you’ve ever been on an ocean cruise, you’ve been required to do what’s called a “muster drill.” Even though ships sink even more rarely than planes crash, international law requires the crew to conduct an actual drill, not just a demo (with or without body paint), in which passengers must don their lifejackets and report to their assigned lifeboat station within a certain amount of time.

The lessons learned from this practice are banal, but startling. It’s easy to put on a life vest, once you have done it once. It’s easy to find the right lifeboat station, once you know where to look. It’s easy to find the fastest route to that station, once you have tread it. But the first time, all of these tasks are confusing.

Likewise, it’s easy to fasten and unfasten your airplane seatbelt, because you have done it so many times. Thankfully, I’ve never had to put on one of those yellow oxygen masks that may fall “in the unlikely event that cabin pressure changes.” But if they did, despite myself, I bet I wouldn’t know exactly what to do — never mind finding the exit doors that have inflatable rafts instead of slides, or divining the proper way to unlatch and extract an exit door.”

I don’t agree.

First, the material is not effective in “normal” videos. As you point on, Deltalina has not helped you any, and the only thing she has going beyond a normal video is she is apparently beautiful (which I disagree with, she looks weird). “Normal” videos choose people, especially the flight attendants, on looks generally anyway. Both the normal and the “spectacle” videos cover the same information.
Second, if no one watched the “normal” demos but for beauty or body paint or whatever reason watched these videos, then they are already more effective. Simply getting people to watch means they are more likely to absorb something then if they are not watching. Simply by default.
Third, as education, psychology, and various other areas are learning, people do tend to learn more (or at least more willingly and they pay attention more) when entertained. Give me a boring lecture and an interesting lecture and I bet I’ll get more out of the interesting lecture, and I bet you will too. Sesame Street has taught children for decades and it is entertaining (I learned agua on it among other things). I’ve learned probably more grammar (and in a more practical way) with Grammar Girl then in classes that taught it. All of these work because we are entertained, and during this entertainment we learn. Just because we are entertained it is not a “bad thing” and should not be degraded just because it has some value beyond information (Check out Everything Bad is Good for You).

I, for one, did learn from the New Zealand Air video–I learned the proper crash landing position. Everything else I knew, from the countless repetitions. But, I guess I am not the normal passenger. I always check to see where my life jacket it, figure out where my nearest exit is, and read the instructions on the emergency door if seated in that row (or one next to it if I don’t like the looks of those in that row). I could do the demo myself and possibly better than a large percentage of the flight attendants I see doing it. I even critique them and note where they make mistakes (in my head).

But then, maybe I am normal. We have some recent proof these demos work to some degree. The US Airways flight that crashed into the Hudson was, from everything I have seen, was a good example of handling a crash landing from the ability of the pilot, to the passengers who exited the plane and waited on the wings or in rafts with their life preservers on–including some elderly and a baby. They all could do it. Granted it was not the life and death situation it could have been, but it does suggest this plane of passengers probably would have done well in something worse. What makes that plane of passengers so special? If them, why not other planes of passengers?

I do agree that the methods—lectures on videos or by a rather board flight attendants–is not the best method to lean the material. Actual drills would be more effective. It would be great if they could require actual drills, though I can just hear the complaining now. Possibly they could offer discounts or coupons for those who took the drills, or require them every so often. I imagine doing them each flight would not work—at least not easily.
Another option that might work to a limited degree is a quiz after the demo. It could be optional and perhaps with some reward for the highest score(s). This way, at least some of the passengers would be more aware of things like where their vest and their best exit are. I wouldn’t suggest making the prize a free drink though–then we would just impair our “most aware” passengers.
Overall, this is a poor situation. The safety demos do provide vital information but no one watched. Until the airlines do something more effective, we are stuck with these demos (and the training of the flight attendants and pilots). But surely finding something to make us watch is better than a boring video we just ignore. Perhaps body paint or beauty will leave behind one little detail that could save our lives, one detail we would not get if we had not watched because we were bored.

In case of an emergency, the collagen-filled lips of the woman in the Delta video can be used as a flotation device.

Something to say?