A brief history of cheeky in-flight safety videos

If there’s one thing that you never, ever pay attention to while traveling, it’s in-flight safety videos. But over the last few years, the dry, fact-based and sobering clips have been replaced, airline by airline, with a new breed of video.

The new breed of in-flight videos delivers the same old safety information cloaked as entertainment with a cute, silly, punchy, tongue-in-cheek and even quirky tone — and they often go viral.

The latest is “The Internetest Safety Video on the Internet,” in which Delta honors all things meme, from the Harlem Shake to screaming goats.

Delta’s latest isn’t the first to go viral — but it may be the first to jump the in-flight safety shark. Virgin America is generally credited with inventing the sassy in-flight safety video genre. Since then, they’ve only gotten more elaborate.

Here’s a brief and abridged timeline charting the key developments in how we got here:

November 2007
Virgin America took inspiration from idle doodling to roll out this animated video packed with dry wit, hailed as having set the precedent in this category. Created in conjunction with ad agency Anomaly, it starred scruffy cartoons mocking the various kinds of people that one is likely to run into on a flight. It has been viewed nearly 900,000 times on YouTube.

The best line: “For the .0001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this.”

June 2009
This video is cheekily set to the soundtrack of “I’ve got you under my skin,” and it shows real-life Air New Zealand flight crew with nothing on. Okay, not absolutely nothing, but body paint disguised as uniforms, which they sportily wear and deliver the “bare essentials” of safety. Air New Zealand got tons of press for this video, which has been viewed over a whopping 7.4 million times.

The best line: It ends with the slogan “From the airline whose fares have nothing to hide!”

July 2009
Thomson Airlines may be just a charter airline, but that didn’t stop it from taking creative flight. The idea behind this highly successful 2009 safety video was a simple one: enlisting small children to dress up as flight attendants and have them give instructions to other little kids dressed as adult passengers on how to deal with emergency situations. The video has been viewed over 1.7 million times on YouTube.

March 2011
Air New Zealand enlisted American fitness critter Richard Simmons in shiny ‘80s disco gear to pump iron while demonstrating safety procedures. Simmons’ aerobics workout moves blend perfectly with actual in-flight safety features — grab, click, pull — in a funny video which has been viewed over 3 million times.

March 2012
The Asian obsession with karaoke takes center stage in this Bangkok Airlines video, an autotuned serenade to the passenger. It may not have been intentionally funny, but it has been viewed nearly 200,000 times.

October 2012
This Hobbit-themed safety video by masters-of-the-genre Air New Zealand was released in 2012, timed to the release of the first film in the franchise, and it features cameos by Sir Peter Jackson and Gollum. It is filled with fake hairy feet, elongated ears and costumes, and a wizard of a pilot. It has 12.3 million views.

October 2013
Golden Girl Betty White proves that age is just a number in this — you guessed it, Air New Zealand — video, as she gives the “old school” version of in-flight safety demonstration, not in a plane but in a resort. The video has 2.4 million views.

October 2013
This over-the-top Broadway musical-inspired safety video by Virgin America features a string of talented performers, including “American Idol” season nine semifinalist Todrick Hall and was directed by Step Up director Jon M. Chu. The cast performs a catchy, well-choreographed song-and-dance sequence, featuring a gyrating nun and even some “robot rap.” The video has amassed over 10.6 million views.

January 2014
This in-flight safety video by Delta went for nostalgia with ’80s references including scrunchies, breakdancing, ponies, Karim Abdul-Jabbar and even spandex. Flight attendants even wear Delta uniforms from that decade in this video produced by agency Wieden & Kennedy. It has been removed online.

February 2014
Virgin Atlantic partnered with motion studio Art & Graft to pay homage to an array of film genres, including the Western, the Bond flick and the Beatles psychedelic freakout in this animated and colorful take on in-flight safety videos.

February 2014
In the same month, Air New Zealand too unveiled a new in-flight safety video, partnering with Sports Illustrated for its Swimsuit Issue’s 50th anniversary and enlisting five well-known SI models, including Chrissy Teigen and Christine Brinkley among others. The video has over 6.9 million YouTube views till date.

October 2014
Air New Zealand reprised its Hobbitty theme with the “Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made,” starring real-life flight attendants and cameos from Elijah Wood and Peter Jackson, going over safety protocol as they frolic through Middle Earth. It has been viewed 14.4 million times on YouTube.

May 2015
Which brings us back to Delta and its medley of memes, custom made to break the Internet — though, sorry Kim K fans, she’s not in it. Nyan cat is in it, and so is the dramatic chipmunk and even the Ice-Bucket challenge. In just two days, it racked up 1.8 million views.


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