Virgin America makes a song and dance out of an all-too-familiar airline ritual

November 6, 2013

Don’t think of the time you spend on the tarmac anymore as the takeoff. No, from now on you’re going to have to call it the opening number.

At least that’s how it might feel on Virgin America, which is applying a catchy show-biz veneer to that tired, uh, standby of the airline business, the preflight safety video.

With a score by Todrick Hall and choreography by Jamal Sims and Christopher Scott, the five-minute piece directed by Jon M. Chu, redeploys the values of musicals and music videos in an effort to get you to look up from your iPad and actually pay attention to instructions that could save your life.

Bob Fosse kind of got here first, with the “Take Off With Us” segment in the autobiographical 1979 movie “All That Jazz.”

So take it as another sign that musical theater is not as uncool as some make it out to be. The folks at Virgin America — a company, of course, with music in its bloodstream — have found a clever way to use the form to fill a dead-air moment of modern travel with song and dance. “Fly away with me,” go the well-made lyrics, which not only bop to an infectious rhythm, but actually conform to FAA guidelines with rhymes like: “In the unlikely event/ We need to get you outside/ Your exit is equipped/ With an inflatable slide.”

(The sense that Virgin knows we’re not living in 1962 is demonstrated in the cheeky aside of a flight attendant: “For the .001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before: Really?”)

Virgin America airliner in flight. (Courtesy Virgin America)
Virgin America airliner in flight. (Courtesy Virgin America)

Already, there have been 4.5 million YouTube looks at the video, which started running on some Virgin jets Nov. 1 and will be shown across the fleet by mid-November. Other airlines such as TAP Portugal have been experimenting with humor in safety videos:

And Virgin created an animated version in 2007:

This latest video, though, is produced on a snazzier level, one that puts the production numbers on “Glee” to shame. From the how-to-inflate-your-life-vest segment, performed in robot rap, to the tyke explaining as a miniature Isaac Hayes that smoking is verboten, to the Broadway-style big finish, this instructional song might soon have Virgin’s passengers dancing in the middle aisle.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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