It's fundamental to every flight - those instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
But Virgin America is about to jazz up its safety presentation - literally.
On Friday the carrier will debut a new safety video set entirely to song and dance, a first it says, for an airline.
Rapping and singing about safety will be a new twist, but some airlines have been getting increasingly creative in how they deliver those normally staid safety instructions.
Delta's new holiday-themed video featuring Santa Claus, an elf and the Nutcracker stuffing his hat into an overhead bin, will start appearing on flights today. Southwest encourages its flight attendants to inject a little humor into their live delivery.
And Virgin America claims that it kicked off the cheeky video trend domestically with its original safety primer, an animated short that, among many amusing touches, showed a matador who was exceedingly proud that he knew how to fasten a seat belt.
Virgin officials say their new video, to be shown fleetwide by mid-November, is designed to get passengers who may be distracted or uninterested to pay attention to potentially life-saving information.
"How many times have you been on a plane where nobody is watching the safety demonstration?'' says Steve Forte, Virgin America's chief operating officer. "People are sitting there reading the newspaper. When you look at this video, you'll see how it grabs people's attention.''
Virgin's roughly five-minute video was directed by filmmaker Jon Chu, features music and lyrics created by former American Idol contestant Todrick Hall, and has among its dancing and singing cast several performers who've appeared on the show So You Think You Can Dance.
There's a little something for everyone, from the "shoo wop'' of '60s girl bands, to funny asides. ("For the .001% of you who have never operated a seat belt before - really?'' )
And while Virgin's primer might remind passengers of an MTV clip or even a Broadway musical, airline officials emphasize that the bottom line is safety. The Federal Aviation Administration, which requires safety briefings on all commercial flights, was consulted throughout the video-making process.
"The main reason we make the video engaging and entertaining is for safety purposes,'' says Luanne Calvert, Virgin America's chief marketing officer.
The FAA has a regulation dictating what all has to be included in safety presentations. "We don't care how you deliver it, as long as it's imparted to passengers,'' says FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette, who added that the presentation must get the federal agency's OK. ''Some of the airlines get a little creative, but it's all the same information that you have to provide.''
TUNING OUT THE MESSAGE
Still, getting passengers to pay attention to directions they may have heard numerous times can be a challenge.
Marshall Goldsmith, who has an antiques business and is part of USA TODAY's panel of Road Warriors, says that he has experienced two emergency landings where he had to exit the plane on an inflatable chute. Still, he tunes out the pre-flight safety instructions.
"I must admit that I do not pay attention at all ... whether they are done live or on video,'' says Goldsmith, who is based in Las Vegas. "I fly so often that it really is just noise to me.''
But even if you think you know what to do in an emergency, it's important to pay attention, says Ron Carr, assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Ariz., campus.
"Just because they've seen it before doesn't mean they have the correct knowledge for the aircraft they're flying in,'' Carr says.
Some frequent travelers say they only listen when they're on an unfamiliar type of plane, or sitting in an exit row. But others say they always tune in, particularly if a flight attendant is giving the message live.
"I always put down my reading material and stop conversation to pay attention,'' says Mitch Fong, who works in financial services and lives in Mill Valley, Calif. "I think that is basic respect and courtesy.''
For others, it's a creative video that catches their eye.
"I love the video flight-safety briefings that are entertaining,'' says USA TODAY Road Warrior Becka Rowland-Buckley, a practice director who lives in Beavercreek, Ohio. "I believe we are wondering what will come next when we watch the videos and so we pay closer attention. And usually you can see the videos better than the flight attendant.''
Karen Moawad, an orthodontic management consultant who lives in Bainbridge Island, Wash., enjoys a Delta video in which a robot heeds the request to turn off all personal electronic devices, and turns himself off in the process. "One cannot help but be drawn to that scene,'' Moawad says.
Delta began to get inventive with its safety presentation roughly six years ago. But airline officials noticed that after about a year, passengers once again began to ignore it, no matter how creative the messaging.
"Any piece of content, once you watch it so many times, you tend to disengage,'' says Mauricio Parise, Delta's director of marketing communications. "So ... it's not just about the piece of content, but how can we keep it fresh.''
Last year, Delta created two new videos, and its holiday-themed primer debuting today will appear on 164 jets and play into the new year.
Southwest, on the other hand, does only live briefings, and the airline has found that being funny not only keeps passengers laughing, it also keeps them focused.
"We do find that when (the flight attendants) are able to include some humor, it kicks up the attention from the cabin,'' says spokeswoman Melissa Ford.
Meanwhile, Virgin enlisted a Hollywood director to refresh its safety presentation, and Chu, whose big screen credits include G.I. Joe, understood his job was to help make a serious message fun.
"The dance and song is the sugar on top of the medicine,'' he says, "communicating the things you need to know in case of an emergency.''