Taiwanese airline EVA Air’s pre-flight safety video is a genuine oddity in a field littered with creative interpretations.
Ten years ago, airlines were straightforward about complying with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other governing bodies’ requirements. These instructions were serious business. Children and other first time travelers paid strict attention to information about tray tables, exits, and inflatable life vests that jaded frequent flyers ignored, confident that most take offs and landings tend to go according to plan, and the overwhelming number of planes tend stay in the air for the duration of one's flight.
What about the ones that don't though? There are times when a too-cool-for-school business traveler seated next to an emergency exit could spell disaster for everyone onboard.
Virgin America’s 2007 animated safety video, below, was the first to recapture passengers' attention, with a blasé narrative style that poked fun at the standard tropes:
For the .0001% of you who have never operated a seatbelt before, it works like this…
The cocky tone was dialed down for more critical information, like how to assist the child in the seat next to you when the yellow oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment. (Imagine the mayhem if indie animator Bill Plympton had been in the pilot’s seat for this one…)
The irreverent approach was a hit. The FAA took note, encouraging creativity in a 2010 Advisory Circular:
Every airline passenger should be motivated to focus on the safety information in the passenger briefing; however, motivating people, even when their own personal safety is involved, is not easy. One way to increase passenger motivation is to make the safety information briefings and cards as interesting and attractive as possible.
For a while EVA Air, an innovator whose fleet includes several Hello Kitty Jets, played it safe by sticking to crowd pleasing schtick. Its 2012 CGI safety demo video, below, must’ve played particularly well with the Hello Kitty demographic.
...looks a bit 2012, no?
A few months ago, EVA took things in a direction few industry professionals could’ve predicted: modern dance, performed with utmost sincerity.
Choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, a member of Taiwan’s indigenous Paiwan community, and a small crew of dancers spent three months translating the familiar directives into a vocabulary of symbolic gestures. See the results at the top of the post.
You’ll find none of the stock characters who populate other airlines’ videos here—no sneaky smokers, no concerned moms, no sleepy businesspeople. There’s barely a suggestion of a cabin.
Unfettered by seats or overhead bins, the brightly clad, barefoot dancers leap and roll as they interact with 3D projections, behavior that would certainly summon a flight attendant if performed on an actual plane.
Does it work?
The answer may depend on whether or not the plane on which you’re traveling takes a sudden nose dive.
In “No Joking,” an essay about airport security, University of Ottawa professor Mark B. Salter writes that it is “difficult to motivate passengers to contemplate their own mortality.” The fashion for jokiness in safety videos “naturalizes areas of anxiety,” a mental trick of which Freud was well aware.
What then are we to make of the EVA Air dancer at the 4:35 minute mark, who appears to be falling backward through the night sky?
Would you show a jet's worth of travelers the modern dance equivalent of Airplane 1975, Fearless, or Snakes on a Plane before they taxi down the runway?
Mercifully, the narrator steps in to remind passengers that smoking is prohibited, before the digitally projected dark waters can swallow the writhing soloist up.
There’s also some question as to whether the video adequately addresses the question of tray table operation.
Readers, what do you think? Does this new video make you feel secure about taking flight?
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.