Jones! you’re not paying attention….

go and see the headmaster!

Sir Robert Jones was ordered off an Air NZ flight because he was not “paying attention to the safety instructions”. Well ‘ordered off’ is a little under-stated; he was in fact escorted off by two airport prefects. I guess they were pleased to be able to actually get some action at last. Twelve plus years of being on full alert for terrorists and at last a real gig.

But of course aircraft safety is important and must be taken seriously, no question. But really Air NZ should lead by example. Having a well- past-his-use-by-date Richard Simmons poncing around through a safety message is hardly taking it seriously. Nor are body-painted crew,  Betty White, hobbits and wizards, All Blacks or Bear Grylles. The pun-laden safety messages get totally lost in the delivery.

Sir Robert is well-known as a very experienced air-traveller, with hundreds if not thousands of flights over his 75 years, and no doubt Air NZ staff would guess better than most how many safety briefings he has sat through in the past. So when he decided to keep his headphones on during one of these safety briefings, I can understand his decision. While I do not wear headphones, I may as well, for I am certainly not paying attention. When challenged Sir Robert replied that he had seen all this crap before and I would have to mutter ‘hear hear.’

But Air NZ are not prepared to overlook that even such an experienced traveller is not paying full attention to the repeated safety instructions on every single flight. No one would have any doubt that he could have recited the safety briefing backwards after all the flights he has been on, so what was the real problem that required him to be escorted from the flight by security?

I doubt this was the first time Sir Robert had offended (and also pretty certain that he was the only one on that flight ignoring the safety message). Air NZ crews may well observe so many travellers so regularly ignoring their safety briefings. May well have brought it up at some strategic planning meetings with management. May well have decided that something must be done. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in these highly creative safety briefings and people need to watch them everytime and cheer everytime.

Air NZ would have known that Sir Robert being sent to the headmaster would make the news, so a cynic could suggest that this incident was a deliberate publicity stunt by Air NZ. They could possibly have believed that this would bring focus to, and renewed respect for, their highly creative safety briefings. That people would start paying more attention once Sir Robert was so publicly marched off the plane. I wonder if they would have done the same to Ritchie McCaw? or Lydia Ko? or Brendon McCullum? No! the public relations consultants would have said grumpy old Sir Robert is the perfect choice. High profile, but not highly-loved.

From my viewpoint, all it has achieved is for me to have the rare experience of empathising with Sir Robert and turn the focus back to Air NZ and say, ‘just stop wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars making oh-so-clever, oh-so-obscure, safety messages that get oh-so-boring by second time round’. 

But aside from Sir Robert’s (and my) over-exposure to these mini movies, Air NZ need to understand that many of their passengers, particularly those who have little or no experience with Air NZ’s safety procedure messages do not use English as their first language. The obscurity of the safety messages buried in these mini movies (which no doubt look splendid on the creative director’s portfolio) must completely baffle these passengers.

Anyone, certainly those with limited understanding of English, would tell them the safety briefing should be graphic, simple and strong. A minimum number of ‘to the point’ slides would aid massively in understanding and recall. Who on earth, in an emergency when people are shrieking and panicking, would be able to recall all the key safety messages from a mini movie of hobbits and elves full of clever little puns? Certainly no-one with limited English understanding.

Safety is serious and must be straight to the point. Messages that communicate by symbols, images and simple words and provide a clear checklist of emergency procedures. A briefing that is all over in 30 or so seconds and that is visually reinforced on the back of the fold-down trays.

Leave the film-making to real film makers. Just concentrate on your own safety procedures in flying planes and then maybe put the mini movies budget into upgrading the standard of meals on international flights (has anyone else also started grabbing a Subway sandwich on the way to boarding and just declining their meal choice?)

Footnote: “I have heard reliable rumour that Sir Bob has since said “bugger it” and has gone and bought himself an aeroplane so he doesn’t have to listen to that crap any more.

Footnote 2: The new XMen safety video isn’t bad; it is actually really good. In principle I still dont think safety videos should be an ‘entertainment’ but at least this one is good entertainment

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