This Preflight Video Is Selling More Than Safety

Thanks to Virgin America, the mandatory safety video is now, and forevermore shall be, just another form of advertising.

Take one part music video, add a dash of Glee, an expensive Hollywood director and a completely captive audience, and that will give you have an idea of what Virgin America passengers will soon be watching before each flight. For five minutes. While belted in place.

The concept for the video—directed by Jon Chu of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Justin Bieber documentary fame—is to engage passengers enough so that people actually pay attention to the safety briefing. In a high-energy romp that brings a musical mash-up to the airplane cabin, there is singing, dancing, and rapping. There’s also ample brand promotion.

Use of the required safety video as an opportunity for customer engagement dates back to 2008 when Delta Air Lines selected a flight attendant from Atlanta named Katherine Lee to narrate its standard preflight briefing. The slightly sassy script coupled with Lee’s full lips, red hair, and exaggerated finger wagging caused her to be dubbed “Deltalina” by some media outlets. Nontravelers even watched the video voluntarily, with more than 3 million views on YouTube.

Lee is no longer featured in Delta’s safety videos, but her brush with something like celebrity clearly resonated with executives at Virgin America. Time will tell if a Broadway-style extravaganza can compete with a commanding flight attendant.