HONG KONG – Air New Zealand has deployed the special forces in the fight to make safety videos less boring: Bear Grylls, a bug-eating, urine-drinking, cliff-scaling British adventurer best known for the TV survival show “Man vs. Wild.”
Airlines’ “how to fasten your seat belt” instructions have been mandatory for many years, and for much of that time, they have been mostly ignored by world-weary frequent travelers.
Grylls’ running, crawling and rappelling performance in Air New Zealand’s latest instruction video is one of a growing number of innovative approaches designed to get passengers to pay attention. Mud-splattered and out of breath, Grylls does not just tell passengers where to find their life jackets — he jumps into a raging river to prove that the jackets work.
Perhaps surprisingly, these attempts to spice up the mind-numbing routine of the onboard safety spiel have arrived on airlines only relatively recently.
Possibly no airline has gone as offbeat as Air New Zealand. Grylls may be an adventurer, but as far as Air New Zealand is concerned, he is on a well-trodden path. Before him have gone, among others, Richard Simmons, whose aerobics-and-leotards version was on the airline’s seat-back screens in March 2011.
A knack for the unusual
Late last year, there were assorted characters from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the release of which threw New Zealand — where it was filmed, as were the related “Lord of the Rings” movies — into a tizzy of Middle-earth-theme events.
And in 2009, the safety instructions were presented by Air New Zealand staff members clad in uniforms consisting of nothing but body paint. The airline’s tongue-in-cheek message was that it had “nothing to hide” — that its fares had none of the hidden extras that anger many passengers.
The video was an instant hit, going viral on YouTube. It has been viewed more than 7 million times. The Grylls iteration may be on track to become even more popular. Since it was introduced Feb. 27, the 4½-minute clip has been watched more than 2.1 million times. The Hobbit safety clip has drawn more than 10.5 million views.
It’s a challenge
“You know how it is: When you get on the plane, the most common reaction when the safety announcement comes on is ‘I hope it’s over quick,’ ” said Tim Launder, general manager of Weta, the visual effects company that worked with Air New Zealand on the Hobbit clip.
The challenge, he added, is to turn “something that people are reluctant to watch into something that people actually want to watch.”