Pre-Flight Safety Messages deserve experts on Reception & Retention of Critical Information

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Pre-Flight Safety Briefings

Do Hollywood-Like Productions Deliver Safety Messages?

The Wall Street Journal published one of its insightful and mildly humorous pieces on the pre-flight safety briefing. The author reviewed a number of Hollywood-like productions designed to grab the passengers’ attention, a good thing, but it was also noted that some of the extravaganzas may not have delivered the full measure of the critical message.


Some of the intended audience found that the glitz trivialized the briefing. Others felt that the song and dance routines obfuscated the important details. What is clear is that the airlines recognized the value of the safety procedures contained in these announcements and turned to the folks who make a living communicating to audiences, advertising agencies. Those professionals create and distribute millions of similar media to sell, to tell consumers why a product or service should be bought. They ostensibly do not get paid just because they are clever or artsy. Madison Avenue‘s wave scale is based on how many of the targets of their tunes or catchy phrases BUY the good or bad seat on the airplane. They must be good, right?

The WSJ suggests NO and there are some good explanations. Perhaps there may be other sources for solutions to the passengers’ lack of receptivity/retention of these lifesaving briefings?

The repetition of anything necessarily degrades the recipient’s focus, i.e. a form of boredom. The stress experienced by some in the moments before departure does not increase attention to a subject, safety, which is the source of anxiety.

There are a number of erudite academic studies on these phenomena:

These are but a few of many such thoughtful research and analysis of the subject. A quick perusal of these dense tomes seems to say “it depends.” More sophisticated audiences respond to material differently than first fliers, while some passengers might be more likely to use an interactive format. For example, research by University of Udine’s HCI Lab “found that passengers are more likely to properly learn safety procedures from a 3D game…than from a safety card placed in the seatback in front of them once they’re on a plane.” The phrase “one size fits all” is inapposite here.

pre flight safety briefings

Each airline might consider hiring learning consultants from colleges or private companies to design a messaging technique (or alternatives) which is most likely to reach its passengers. There may be few research dollars with greater return than improving the passengers’ knowledge of what to do in the circumstances of an accident. Madison Avenue may know how to sell and Hollywood may be best at getting an audience’s attention. Spending money to increase the likelihood of a passenger safely escaping a crash should be a top priority and the skill to be certain that the passengers listen may reside in other venues.


ARTICLE: Passengers to Airlines: Enough With the Wacky Safety Videos
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