Is Safety Funny?

I’ve always liked the Virgin America brand: Quirky, entertaining and a little off-kilter. Their planes always seem newer, more modern and cleaner than most, and the dimmed lighting encountered upon boarding feels more like you’re about to sit down and have a few cocktails than fly across the country. But on my most recent flight, there was a new safety video that really captured my attention

I’ve always liked the Virgin America brand: Quirky, entertaining and a little off-kilter. Their planes always seem newer, more modern and cleaner than most, and the dimmed lighting encountered upon boarding feels more like you’re about to sit down and have a few cocktails than fly across the country.

But on my most recent flight, there was a new safety video that really captured my attention. With over 8 million views on YouTube, it’s hip, hop, happenin’. Sexy dancers, fun beat, and an array of characters that can contort into uncomfortable positions keeps you engaged and tapping your toe. Five minutes in length, I was glued to every second of it.

Last week I flew Delta and, lo and behold, they too have a new safety video. This video, however, was bordering on bizarre. While the entire plane was filled with people cryogenically preserved from the 1980’s, it was so distracting that I felt oddly uncomfortable—and the Teddy Ruxpin bear felt just plain creepy. At the end of it, I felt like getting up and taking a shower.

Is it just me?

I glanced around at other passengers and a few caught my eye and gave me the “weird, huh?” shrug. The family seated across the aisle from me looked perplexed. It was clear that English was not their first language, and that this may have been their first flight—ever. The safety video appeared to confuse them as they struggled to put on their seat belts. I knew they would require my help to understand that the seat cushion could be used as a flotation device, in case of a water landing.

To be honest, they may not have learned these insights from the old fashioned safety videos either, but without a flight attendant to hold up the buckle and do a demonstration, they were totally lost.

I don’t want to sound like a wet blanket, but I take airplane safety pretty seriously. I do want to know where the exits are on the plane—and I want to be prepared in case of an emergency (God forbid). So I had mixed feelings about both of these attempts at humor. Will it make me choose another airline? Probably not. But is “funny” the way you want passengers describing your brand attitude toward safety?

United, on the other hand, shows a video that includes subtitles in English and Spanish—certainly a smart move. And, it does reflect the United brand—solid, reliable and no nonsense. Attributes I cherish in a product that encapsulates and propels me 30,000 feet into the air without any ability to control my destiny.

Granted most people these days know how to buckle a seatbelt, I’m still not 100 percent convinced the safety video should be treated as edutainment. Did Virgin and Delta conduct some research that told them passengers were bored with their old safety video and therefore dismissive of its’ helpful content? Did they believe there is a direct correlation between kicking off a flying experience in a fun and frivolous way and brand loyalty?

I’d love to hear your thoughts …