Dragons, dancers, football heroes and silver-screen stars: brace yourself for the best inflight safety videos, writes Belinda Jackson.

In case you missed the memo (or are flying boring airlines), inflight safety videos are officially A Thing. Don’t you just love the traditional safety clip? You know the one: four minutes of stilted, humour-free close-ups of simpering soccer moms in economy helping their charmingly immobile children into an oxygen mask, while a rakish bloke in a sharp suit languishes in business class – markedly luggage and child free.

Aside from being completely unrealistic (where’s the shrieking child, the rogue meals trolley, the female executive in first class?) the traditional safety video is a one-script genre. There’s a reason we all collectively tune out: imagine watching a safety video that’s been looped for eternity. Surely one of the Nine Hells. No, let’s not talk about those videos, notable for the beyond-bored faces of a thousand carefully bland air hosties grimly demonstrating how to fasten seatbelts, low and tight, across your waist.

Qantas' two most recent videos are guaranteed tear-jerkers
Qantas’ two most recent videos are guaranteed tear-jerkers

Instead, we’re talking snappy cartoons, hip-flicking dance videos and epic YouTube blockbusters orchestrated by directors better known for their work with elves and Biebers. If safety videos aren’t on your must-watch list, then you clearly haven’t flown Air New Zealand in the past five years. Top of the list – mine and everyone else’s – is our canny Hobbit cousins’ modestly self-titled Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made. It’s been replaced now, but is still a YouTube hit, with wizards astride soaring eagles demonstrating the brace position, ogres stashing pots of gold under the seat before them, pointy-eared flight attendants and semi-gratuitous bungee jumping (well, it is New Zealand).

Spoiler alert: if I starred in this safety video, I’d be the hyper-nerdy Hobbit fan staring at the curiously shrunken – but no less annoying – Elijah Wood, who plays Bilbo Baggins in the original movie, which was of course shot on location in New Zealand. And here’s the clever catch: the safety video does more than grab our attention to deliver the otherwise pretty dreary safety message about seat belts, packing overhead luggage and smoking in the loo. It’s also an ad for the national carrier’s home country. Why not? We’re a captive audience, hundreds of us, sitting there like battery hens, waiting for take-off and the drinks trolley.

Qantas has always been the wingman to top gun Air New Zealand in the cool video stakes, but our national carrier’s two most recent videos are guaranteed tear-jerkers for homesick expats, especially the road train truckie and the skyscraper window cleaner demonstrating how to unclip your seat belt. It’s a welcome change to earlier videos, in which Qantas has been guilty of the old ‘flight-crew-prancing-across-the-tarmac-behind-avuncular-pilot’ scenario beloved by video directors bereft of ideas.

British Airways has plenty of homegrown talent on tap. Its latest video hauls in thespians Sir Ian McKellen, Jim Broadbent and Rowan Atkinson as well as a civil Gordon Ramsay. In a masterful stroke of public relations and philanthropy, it also drums up funds for charity Comic Relief, whose modest aim is a world free of poverty.

Qatar took the self-promotion one step further, getting extra bang for its jersey sponsorship bucks when it inveigled FC Barcelona’s stars Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar Jr into its safety video. Of course, the video went viral among football fans around the world, clocking 40 million views in its first month. Let’s face it, you’ve gotta think laterally when there aren’t that many world-famous Qataris kicking around. Unfortunately, it’s now expired, and Qatar has taken a large step backward with its current video, starring a sultry blond flight attendant, pink glossy lips puckering up to inflate his life jacket, while staring down the barrel of the camera, green eyes a-glow. Maybe I’m the only one thinking this? Make up your own mind: Google ‘qatar airways safety video hot guy’ (Hot Guy, it seems, is a Thing in his own right).

Special points for Sri Lankan’s 3D animated film, Virgin America’s safety dance, Air Arabia’s cute video performed entirely by a planeload of seven-year-olds in two languages and Air France’s super-chic, all-girl performance, complete with seatbelt tips (‘your seatbelt must be securely fastened; it will elegantly highlight your waistline while ensuring your safety’).

Of course, if you can’t wrangle an international football player to perform in your video and Hollywood actors won’t return your calls, there’s always the old-school fall-back, where crew physically demonstrate the safety equipment and procedures. Take the chance to give the crew a wink as they point out the safety exits to let them know you’re watching – with tray tables up, seat backs upright and window shades open, of course.

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