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Why the pre-flight safety talk matters

When George Bibel asks, at the beginning of his New York Times opinion article, "What's the point of listening to the safety instructions given by flight attendants? If there's a crash, everybody dies, right?" I'll admit that I half shrugged in agreement. Though I listen to the safety speech to be polite, I've always considered these talks more a show of confidence than a potentially useful education.

Well, at it turns out, these talks may be a lot more important than we give them credit for. Through statistics and examples, Bibel makes a compelling case for pausing the conversation or the iPod and tuning into the short spiel. He says that, in any airplane accident, passengers are five times more likely to survive than to die. So knowing what to do in an emergency could come in handy.

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After reading this, I'll never again be embarrassed to look around for my nearest exit row when instructed to do so. Because it's a good idea, and one that actually seems to matter.

I've got to say, though, these speeches may need an update if they're going to hold passenger attention. While a lot of the information is useful, the safety talk is peppered with the embarrassingly obvious—I'm thinking particularly about the bit about how to buckle your seatbelt—that might encourage people who already know how to buckle their seatbelt to tune out early. Virgin America, which delivers its safety speech in stylized cartoon format over passengers' personal screens, even pokes fun at the remedial education aspect in its narration, which goes something like "If you are one of the .001 percent of the population that's never seen a seatbelt before..."

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