You’ll crack a smile at least when you watch the Southwest Airlines flight attendant’s safety brief that I’ve embedded below. It’s pretty funny, although she does talk quite fast.
But it’s time to ask a serious question: Would you remember any of what she said in an actual emergency?
That’s the big debate right now, as airlines do whatever they can think of to make people pay attention to safety videos and briefings. And we’ve reached a point where yes, some of the messages are in fact quite funny.
(The Air New Zealand one with the naked flight attendants for example will make you laugh, and the new Turkish Airlines LEGO Movie one, which you can also see at the end of this article.)
But while these are entertaining videos and briefings, they’re hiding a giant problem: Passengers often don’t actually remember what they’ve been told to do, in a high-stress, emergency situation.
Southwest and Delta
In this age of social media and instant video, we see fast proof. Let me give you two quick, recent examples:
- Southwest flight 1380 last April, the emergency landing in which passenger Jennifer Riordan died. Viral video and photos show that almost all of the passengers wore their oxygen masks wrong. They would have been useless if the pilot hadn’t descended quickly enough to get to breathable air.
- Delta Air Lines flight 1854 the following month. Flight attendants I heard from were livid, as they watched passengers evacuate a smoke-filled cabin, but stop to get their carry on bags in violation of a major safety rule.
As Zoe Chance of Yale University explained to the Los Angeles Times recently, the airlines’ funny safety briefings are like the companies that spend millions on Super Bowl ads, only to learn that people loved their ads–but can’t remember what they advertised.
“Just having naked flight attendants doesn’t work if the passengers don’t remember the message,” she said. “They just remember the naked flight attendants.”
So what’s the solution? One idea might be if airlines at least passed some of the safety equipment around on planes occasionally.
It might be helpful, for example, if the first time most passengers ever see an airplane oxygen mask or an under seat flotation device, it’s not during the panic of an actual emergency.
However, some airline pilots and other employees have told me they don’t think that is practical, in this era of shaving seconds off turnaround times in order to meet on-time departure goals.
So barring that, I’d suggest looking to the the U.S. military, which has spent decades learning to teach people to execute complex procedures in highly stressful conditions.
Quick example: It’s been 15 years since I fired an M16A2 rifle in the Army Reserve, but I remember what to do if one jams in combat, because of the mnemonic they drilled into us: S-P-O-R-T-S: SLAP the magazine, PULL the charging handle, etc.
The military understands that stress makes it really hard to concentrate and remember things. Under intense stress pressure, people will literally forget things like which side of a weapon is the dangerous side (“FRONT TOWARD ENEMY“).
Same as people will forget, under intense stress, that you’re supposed place the mask “over your nose AND mouth.”
Air travel is safer than it’s ever been, so maybe we’ve been lucky, or maybe this is not as big a problem as it might seem. But it would be great if we could figure out memorable, stressed-out-passenger-proof ways to teach these safety instructions.
That said, I do find a lot of these briefings funny, and I don’t think I’ve ever personally had a bad experience on Southwest Airlines or Delta. And I do want to give credit where it’s due for being entertaining.
So we’ll end with a few of the funnier safety briefings–including the most recent Southwest one to go viral, along with the classic Air New Zealand video, and the brand new Turkish Airlines one.