It wasn’t long ago that every airline safety video felt the same. When entertainment screens first arrived on commercial planes in the 1980s, the safety briefings that airlines pushed onto them were like DMV videos, dull and stiff. Virgin Atlantic made a few animated videos around 2000, but beyond those, having a favorite airline safety video was unheard of.
Then in 2008, Delta released a video featuring a red-headed flight attendant nicknamed Deltalina. I remember watching the video online as the views racked up by the thousands and Deltalina’s “no smoking” finger-wagging went viral. A decade later, nearly every major carrier has reached for viral fame with a new take on the in-flight safety video, which is now a place for innovation and brand-building.
The latest example is United, which last month introduced a new safety video featuring Spider-Man as part of a promotional partnership with Sony Pictures in the lead-up to the July 2 release of Spider-Man: Far From Home. And no airline has done more to elevate the art than Air New Zealand, whose videos have amassed 178 million views, according to the carrier.
Despite the inflated production budgets, it’s amazing how many people don’t watch preflight briefings, which are still means of delivering potentially life-saving information.
These 10 videos deserve a shout-out for attempting something unique and different with the ability to get passengers’ attention, entertain, and inform.
Delta’s “Deltalina” video
This is the video that got me to see the safety video as a space for creativity. With a finger wag, Katherine Lee, the real-life Delta flight attendant who played Deltalina, changed things for good.
Air New Zealand’s “Bare Essentials of Safety”
This list could be composed almost exclusively using Air New Zealand productions, but this one deserves special mention as the first to make a splash. The expected safety messaging from 2009 is delivered by flight attendants and pilots dressed in nothing but body paint.
United’s “Safety is Global III”
Rather than reach for laughs, United sticks to the heart of travel in this one. As in the earlier two videos in United’s “Safety is Global” series, safety essentials are set against scenes from around the globe. The pluming rainbows of Holi, dancing Northern Lights, and a German beer hall resonate with anyone wanting to see the world. It’s my favorite so far from United.
Turkish Airlines’ LEGO Movie video
Emmet, Lucy, and Batman brought The LEGO Movie aesthetic to the skies in 2018. The lightning-quick style of fun made the film a hit, and it worked well in this video for Turkish Airlines, too, which was no small feat to produce. According to the carrier, the video involved close to three million LEGO bricks and took more than two-and-a-half years to make.
Air New Zealand’s “The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made”
This Lord of the Rings–inspired video has returned more than 20 million YouTube views since its release in 2014. Elijah Wood and Sir Peter Jackson grace a screen that fills with the beauty of New Zealand’s real-life Middle Earth. “With all our safety videos, we aim to come up with an idea that is completely different,” says an Air New Zealand spokesperson, adding that its videos “drive awareness of New Zealand as a destination, as well as Air New Zealand’s routes, products and people.” No video has done this as effectively since.
Virgin America’s safety dance video
This 2013 video was expertly choreographed and delivers its mandated messaging via song. It was a fresh take and the catchiness of the song served it well.
Singapore Airlines’ Singapore Girl video
Singapore Airlines sticks to what it knows with this video, which of course is Singapore. In partnership with Singapore’s tourism marketing organization, the airline takes passengers around the city-state known for hawker stalls, supertrees, and the world’s best airport. The video is also simply beautiful.
Icelandair’s 2014 video
For this 2014 video, Icelandair looked to its own backyard for visuals to build around. The moss-draped mountains, glaciers, beaches, and Northern Lights featured are the same things that have drawn so many new travelers to Iceland in recent years.
Qatar Airways’ video with the FC Barcelona pro soccer team
This one is just fun. The Barcelona professional soccer team’s Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano sub in during the demonstration on how to position your body during a crash landing, and then Neymar da Silva Santos Junior strikes a free kick. If you’re into sports, you don’t want to look away.
Hawaiian Airlines’ Aloha video
If you like Hawaii, you can’t help but like this video. Hawaiian Airlines does a good job bringing the aloha spirit aboard flights to and from the islands. I’m happy to give my full attention to paradise.
Love them or hate them, airline safety videos are a necessary part of the flying experience. Airlines operating in the United States are required by Section 121.571 of the Federal Aviation Administrtion’s Title 14 regulations to inform passengers of things such as emergency exit locations, smoking rules, and seatbelt mechanics, before they can take to the air. And although you may still see this messaging delivered via live demonstration (including on aircraft with no screens), most airlines use videos in 2019. In the words of a United spokesperson, videos with humor and action allow airlines to “look for new ways to bring attention to the briefing by making it relevant while reinforcing the importance of safety.”
Those of us who fly frequently can appreciate the attempts at making these more fun and interesting—and the effort to get people to actually pay attention, once in a while, to important safety information.