Air New Zealand censured over star-studded safety videos

Airline is under fire from watchdog for burying live-saving messages among cameos

Air New Zealand has been rebuked by the country's aviation watchdog for burying life-saving messages in among celebrity cameos in its pre-flight safety videos.

The airline is infamous for its elaborate star-studded clips, in which celebrities like Richard Simmons, Bear Grylls and Betty White tell passengers how to respond in an aviation emergency.

But an email published by One News on Wednesday revealed that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had criticised the airline for including "extraneous material" in one of its clips – and indicated that the agency had communicated similar concerns in the past.

“As we have commented previously, the video diverges materially from the ‘safety message’ at times, and whilst I appreciate the need to engage the viewers, the extraneous material detracts from the scope and direction of the safety message.”


The writer referred the airline to CAA literature on cabin briefings.

The email referred to the Surfing Safari video, which featured nine professional surfers, including Mick Fanning, the three-time world champion from Australia, and Anastasia Ashley, who has modelled in Sports Illustrated.

Gabriel Medina of Brazil, Masatoshi Ohno of Japan and Alana Blanchard and Laird Hamilton, both of the US, also appeared in the clip, which was shot at four locations in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

The CAA told New Zealand media that it would not comment on individual instances relating to the production of safety videos, but that “even when assessed within its creative envelope”, the Surfing Safari clip complied.

The clip was retired in July and replaced by a video starring actor Anna Faris and Rhys Darby, the New Zealand comedian who starred in Flight of the Conchords.

Titled Safety in Hollywood, the new clip was filmed at four different sets at Warner Brothers and involved more than 20 extras, including a chihuahua that had starred in Transformers and Grey’s Anatomy.

It has received more than 1.4 million plays on YouTube since being uploaded.

Faris said in a press release that Air New Zealand had “really redefined safety videos with its fun and creative approach.

“It’s so easy to tune out when watching a traditional safety video, so it comes as such a delightful surprise when you get something that’s really fun and funny.”

Millions of views

Jodi Williams, the airline's head of global branding, said the clips – which it actively promotes with the hashtag #AirNZSafetyVideos – had collectively drawn more than 83 million views online.

One of its most high-profile videos was the Lord of the Rings-themed Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, which was released in October 2014 to coincide with the final film in the Hobbit trilogy.

Director Peter Jackson appeared in the clip, alongside Elijah Wood and other cast members.

Shot over six days at locations across New Zealand, it comes in at just under five minutes long and has been played nearly 16 million times on YouTube.

It was the second Lord of the Rings-related clip from Air New Zealand – which markets itself as “the official airline of Middle-Earth” – following on from An Unexpected Briefing in 2012. That clip was viewed more than 12 million times.

The airline – which was named’s Airline of the Year for the third consecutive year in December – began taking the novel approach to passenger safety in 2009 with its Bare Essentials of Safety clip, which showed cabin crew and staff giving safety briefings wearing only body paint.

Mike Tod, the airline's chief marketing and customer officer, said in an interview published on LinkedIn in 2015 that the clips were effective marketing tools: "These pieces of content can put bums on seats."

But they have been known to backfire. One clip that was produced in partnership with Sports Illustrated for the 50th anniversary of the magazine’s swimsuit edition drew criticisms that it was sexist and a petition calling for it to be pulled in July 2014.

“A safety video is to alert passengers on what to do in an emergency; it should not be an excuse to objectify the sexualised female body,” the petition said.

“This video creates an unnecessarily difficult and uncomfortable working environment for its female staff, which goes against the entire nature of safety.”

The clip was pulled from flights, but a spokeswoman for Air New Zealand told media that that was only because it had reached the end of its run.

Guardian service