You must be serious!

You must be serious!

Air France video

It will be the same advice once again; the ninth time in less than a fortnight. We are on the runway at Amsterdam airport on the last leg of our journey back from the Galápagos Islands [see The power of observation, Greyhares, 21 July 2016]. The plane waits prior to take off. The screen in front drops down and a calm and authoritative woman comes into focus and asks me to listen carefully even if I have heard the message before. As always, I comply. I have not missed such a message yet. As always, the video tells me how I should behave during the flight and, more importantly, what I should do in the event of an emergency.

However repetitious the message may be, for me, listening is obligatory. I have neither flight phobia nor claustrophobia, but, hearing the advice, I am calmed and reassured. With such instructions, it demonstrates that the crew and the airline are concerned about my well-being and, more importantly in the event of a crash, if I behave as they advise, I could survive.  For me, the provision of authoritative instructions is part of the rules of engagement of air travel – “If you fly with us and follow our instructions we will ensure your welfare” – and that suits me well. Call me superstitious, unrealistic or plain bonkers, but paying careful attention to this pre-takeoff ritual has become an essential part of my flight routine.

Not surprisingly, I was similarly attentive when our guide on the Galápagos boat delivered his security advice soon after we boarded for our trip around the islands. The message was much the same as for flying, but as might be imagined, there was no mention of any falls in cabin pressure, more stress was placed on how to behave in the event of turbulence at sea, and, rather unexpectedly, our captain’s skills were lauded unstintingly. He was once, we were told, a local fisherman and so had an intimate knowledge of the local tides, rocks, reefs, currents and sandbanks. With him at the helm, and aided by the boat’s state-of the-art radar, echo-sounder, satellite navigation systems and short wave radio, we were in good hands. Indeed, our guide had never before felt so secure. I was reassured, a feeling reinforced when we were introduced on the bridge to all the members of our smiling, uniformed crew, from the aforementioned captain, to his two vice-captains, down to the cleaning lady.

So what happens if the rules of engagement are breached? I felt very ill-at ease when, on a short flight between the Ecuadorian mainland and the Archipelago, the advice was given by our air hostess in indecipherable English. And, based on the Air France safety video shown on international flights, I have decided to avoid ever giving them my custom. On that carrier, the instructions, which are given with the help of five giggling, dancing and pouting models, trivialise the message and so breach my rules of engagement. And all is made worse by the presenter’s suggestion that passengers should securely fasten their seat belts as it “elegantly highlights your waistline”, that not smoking is “simply chic” and that switching one’s electronic devices into airplane mode is “trendy”.

I understand why flight safety videos need to be attention grabbing – and I know that in reality whatever video is shown it will have little bearing on my survival in the event of some in-flight catastrophe, but I do want the airline to take me seriously and in this respect Air France fails.

But there were other, more serious, forms of breach. While on the boat I made it my business to get to know the captain. Although on holiday in an equatorial paradise, I was keen to know the results of the European Football final in Paris and the men’s singles final at Wimbledon, and only the captain had the wherewithal to link up with the outside world. Occasionally I would knock on the wheelhouse door to ask him my question. On one such occasion, I gingerly opened the door only to see him dozing on a bench and the ship’s cleaner standing in his place at the helm.

Perhaps I am unusual, but I want those in charge of a plane or a boat to take seriously their security responsibilities and that includes giving clear, authoritative advice.  Serious issues need serious responses and trivialising, or breaching won’t do.

And, by the way, after four days at sea I learned that Portugal had won the football, although it was not until on my way home that I discovered that Murray had won at Wimbledon. Clearly tennis was not something our captain found interesting.

4 comments on “You must be serious!
  1. Robert Pigott says:

    I had never considered it a style thing, but now In Australia it will be fun to see it as chic to drive on the left hand side of the road, and trendy to stop at red traffic lights.

  2. Sean Hilton says:

    Nice one Joe,

  3. Alan West says:

    I was about to write a comment about how we manage our anxiety through rituals such as the one you describe, when there was a timely reminder of the kind of disorderly evacuation that happens in real life emergencies.

    The panic that ensued yesterday when an Emirates flight crash-landed in Dubai after the landing gear apparently failed was recorded by a passenger. The aircraft was about to catch fire and explode – yet many passengers (the ones who hadn’t bothered to watch the safety video, presumably) were trying to take their belongings from the overhead lockers, blocking the escape routes and merely adding to general mayhem. Thanks to crew members who had the composure to impose something resembling order on the chaos, all 300 passengers and crew members were safely evacuated – though a firefighter lost his life tackling the blaze.

    Having been in a similar situation on a sinking cruise ship tender (happily, it was a false alarm) it seems to me that the human instinct in such situations is to panic – every man for himself. This being the case Joe, your best strategy would be to ignore the video, just like everyone else, but make sure you have a seat next to the emergency exit!

  4. D Cattermole says:

    This is a very revealing response Joe, though the challenge that airlines face is not about getting key safety messages across to the 20% of passengers who watch the safety video assiduously, but the 80% who don’t.

    Though you find this particular video annoying/trivialising (a ‘generational’ thing perhaps?) – its intent is clear, and the effectiveness of humorous video treatments has been demonstrated by research (Molesworth and others, 2014). So, Air France must be sorry to have lost your custom on what might seem (to some) a minor transgression but you can bet they have done their research into its effectiveness.

    The Thomson Airways flight safety video (which always make me laugh – and watch!) employs several small children to good effect – and, when Thomson conducted follow-up research they found that there was a:

    • 15% increase in the number of passengers who paid full attention to the video;
    • 66% increase in the number of passengers who felt that the new film made them feel more safe;
    • 333% growth in the number of passengers who engaged with the video; and
    • 91% increase in the number of children under the age of 12 who watched the entire video until the end.

    The research is possibly not rigorous enough for some (as they don’t mention the percentage of passengers who refused ever to fly with them again) – proof enough perhaps of the old maxim “You can’t win ’em all!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please feel free to comment in any language, but note that comments will be published in English. We offer no warranty as to the accuracy of the Greyhares translation!

I accept the Privacy Policy


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.