Adrian Grenier, penguins, and CGI—when did airline safety videos get so insane?

Back to basics, please?
Back to basics, please?
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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The story is always the same: You get on an airplane. You sit in your seat. You buckle your seatbelt—and keep it buckled throughout the flight. You note the emergency exits. You listen to cabin crew. You don’t smoke in the lavatory. You know the drill.

But the videos displaying this rote advice? They seem to be getting more and more heavily produced, with all the bells and whistles of a Hollywood trailer—and yet none of the plot or payoff.

The latest culprit is Air New Zealand’s new—and overly produced—airline safety bit featuring actor, director, and UN Environment Ambassador Adrian Grenier. In addition to alerting passengers where the nearest emergency exit is, the video—which was filmed in Antarctica—raises awareness for environmental issues.

This is not the first time New Zealand has used the medium of an airline safety video to capture attention both on and off the aircraft. Last year, another one of their videos starring a deity-like Katie Holmes and Cuba Gooding Junior went viral online thanks to its stellar casting and wacky narrative. They’ve also previously done videos themed around The Hobbit and the All Blacks rugby team spoofing Men In Black.

While Air New Zealand has seemed to mastered the medium—and perhaps most shrewdly learned how to use it as a marketing tool—the genre’s trend is generally credited to Sir Richard Branson who made safety videos more than just a utilitarian box-ticking exercise.

When he founded Virgin Atlantic, he did, after all, want to “make flying fun again.” Since then, many other airlines have followed suit, employing all manner of distractions including French models, CGI pandas, and internet memes (22, to be exact, in this bizarre video below from Delta) to liven up otherwise dull subject matter.

The real reason for all this fanfare, of course, is clear: Airlines want passengers to watch these ostensibly entertaining videos in the hope they will actually digest the information they contain. That’s understandable, but they might have more success if they just get to the point. Once you’ve seen one airline video—you’ve kind of seen them all. And most travelers are just keen to get to the stage where they are watching a rom-com, drinking wine, and avoiding talking to their seat-mate.