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I used to work in airline safety. United's new video has good intentions, but I don't think it will make passengers any less distracted.

Taylor Rains   

I used to work in airline safety. United's new video has good intentions, but I don't think it will make passengers any less distracted.
  • United Airlines' new inflight safety video is creative but also extremely distracting.
  • The video's busy and engaging theatrics overshadow key safety information.

I didn't retain much from United Airlines' new inflight safety video. And I doubt passengers will either.

The video, released on Thursday, is the latest in United's series of entertaining briefings that attempt to combine required safety and fun into a heavily regulated part of flying.

The mini-movie follows a shiny blue ball as it snakes its way through lively and colorful sets that focus on key safety information, like seatbelt usage and how to use the oxygen mask.

In a press release, United said the video was designed with the goal of capturing the focus of passengers clearly and succinctly in hopes the creative scenes and transitions will help people pay more attention to its emergency instructions — especially frequent flyers who have likely memorized the spiel by now.

"The safest safety video is one that people will want to watch even on your 45th viewing," United's creative director, Meg Mitchell, who oversaw production, told NPR. "People start to tune out. And so we wanted something that felt like you could watch over and over and over again and still want to pay attention to."

However, the blue ball isn't just rolling slowly across the screen — it's bouncing across windows, knocking down dominoes, and being launched across seats. All the while, the crewmembers are simultaneously giving safety instructions and demonstrating the equipment.

I found the theatrics to be distracting

As someone who worked in airline safety before becoming an aviation journalist, I understand United is using entertainment to get people to focus on the video instead of their phones.

Despite good intentions, the video's in-your-face theatrics are just as distracting.

Throughout the entire video, I found myself focusing more on where the ball was going next in its winding web of tracks rather than on the core safety message.

For example, the ball overshadowed information like where the life jackets are located and how to use the exit doors. The seatbelt presentation was interrupted by a close-up of the ball instead of what the camera should focus on — the flight attendant giving the safety instructions.

There was simply a lot going on, and I can't imagine passengers — particularly first-time flyers or those who only travel once or twice a year — absorbed the important safety elements.

The video's launch comes shortly after the airline faced heightened FAA oversight after a string of safety incidents earlier this year.

In a statement to Business Insider on Thursday, United pointed to its collaboration with the agency on the video, saying it believes it is one "passengers will actively watch."

"We worked closely with the FAA throughout the production process to ensure the video aligned to their standards, culminating with the FAA's approval of the video," the airline said.

United and Japan Airlines' safety videos are polar opposites

United's video piggybacks on a similar discussion I wrote about in January after a Japan Airlines Airbus A350 caught fire in Tokyo.

All 379 passengers on board that plane survived, and the airline's no-nonsense safety video likely helped.

Instead of humor and Hollywood-style sets, JAL takes a straightforward approach to its safety instructions, providing clear and concise information without any extra pizzazz that could distract from the core content.

Notably, its warning to leave luggage behind during evacuations included a visual explanation of how to go down the slide — including arms crossed and heels off — and showed the consequences of failing to follow instructions.

United, as well as many other Western carriers, lack this level of detail in their videos.

Don't get me wrong; I do think there is room for creativity in an airline safety video so long as it clearly conveys the message — but, in my opinion, United's got lost in the theatrics this time.

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