Airline Safety Demonstrations Show Humor Differences Between China and US


To relieve airline attendants from the embarrassing task of safety demonstration, many airlines switch to recorded instructions. No matter whether the safety demonstration is done in the old-fashioned way on airplanes without screens, or via flashy screen on fancy airplanes, it has to pack enough spice to not only attract but also keep the attention of passengers who don’t even bother to pretend they are watching. The creativity of airlines is challenged and many of them have delivered. Some of them are so entertaining that people who are not on the plane are missing out. Videos of such innovative demonstration, both in-person and recorded, are popular online and some enthusiastic fans even collected and ranked them. Airline safety demonstrations also can provide a window to see the different sense of humor between China and U.S.

Popular recorded demonstrations include cute children as instructors by Thomson Airways, flight attendants with paint-on uniforms by Air New Zealand, incredibly attractive women and subtle sexiness by Delta Airlines and a video making fun of stereotypes of passengers by Virgin America. Famous in-person demonstrations include Southwest Airlines flight attendants rapping safety instruction or singing it in hit pop tunes. These are early pioneers setting trend of making the safety demonstration fun. There are more and more airlines joining in this new wave.

Airlines in China, either international or domestic, have not showensigns to spice up their safety demonstrations. This may in part because China has a different view from U.S. on not only what is considered funny, but also what should be funny. Safety is a serious issue and poking fun of it may seem inappropriate to many people, particularly the older generations. To be qualified as a flight attendant in China, either male or female, the physical appearance must be among the top notch of the population and the competition is fierce. They are all slender and good looking, dressed neatly in designer uniforms and always behave very professionally. They just don’t look like anyone who would tell jokes.

Also, lack of Western stand up comedian culture, body languages, props and facial expressions are not universally understood and appreciated in China like they are in U.S. Thus it is hard to draw a fine line between being annoying and being funny. For recorded safety demonstration, it is possible to imagine China can make videos of kid instructors like those of Thomson Airlines to spice up the demonstration, but anything more than that is very challenging to visualize. Passengers on Chinese airlines may have to totally give up the hope of seeing a funny airline safety demonstration, at least in the near future. AirAsia, a Malaysia-based budget airline, made news last October for making funny announcements. It offers hope that maybe one day Chinese airlines will loosen up and do funny airline safety demonstrations, which would be Chinese style funny still, due to the humor differences between China and U.S.

Watching these funny videos are fun, but being on an airplane and having the attention drawn to unexpected funny demonstration is the best experience. And a funny in-person demonstration beats a recorded one—it is like sitting in the audience watching a stand-up comedian is more fun than watching it on TV. Passengers boarding Frontier Airlines Flight 137 on March 12 had such a treat. The announcer said when the “complimentary” oxygen mask would become available, the first thing she wanted the passengers to do is to “stop screaming,” and passengers must wear the mask correctly themselves first before helping children or “anyone behaves like children.” Passengers who have questions can “ask Nancy and her alone, because she is new to Frontier Airlines.” She ended the laughter-filled announcement by thanking passengers “for not flying with Southwest.”

Such laughter is very help to relieve the grumpiness of some passengers who discovered extra fee is needed if they want to change the assigned seat, who had to pay $45 for carry-on luggage because they didn’t book the ticket from the website of Frontier Airlines, and who used to have two pieces of checked-in luggage for free, if connecting to an international flight, but had to pay $75 now. Airfares are increasingly becoming only part of the transportation expense, as a la carte style prevails and breaks down the process into unimaginable number of steps for charging opportunities. But at least the chances of being entertained for free look to be on the rise for passengers here. The domination of culture and entertainment of U.S. in the world is spreading its values and preferences to China and it may reduce the gap on perceptions of humor and contribute to a funny airline safety demonstration on Chinese airlines someday.

Opinion by Tina Zhang


E China Cities

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