A pre-flight safety briefing (also known as a pre-flight demonstration, in-flight safety briefing, in-flight safety demonstration, safety instructions, or simply the safety video) is a detailed explanation given before take-off to airline passengers about the safety features of the aircraft they are aboard.
Aviation regulations do not state how an airline should deliver the briefing, only that ‘The operator of an aircraft shall ensure that all passengers are orally briefed before each take-off’. As a result, and depending on the in-flight entertainment system in the aircraft, as well as the airline's policy, airlines may deliver a pre-recorded briefing or provide a live demonstration. A live demonstration is performed by one or more flight attendants standing up in the aisles, while another flight attendant narrates over the public address system. A pre-recorded briefing may feature audio only, or may take the form of a video (audio plus visual). Pre-flight safety briefings typically last two to six minutes. In consideration for travelers not speaking the airline's official language and for the passengers with hearing problems, the video may feature subtitles, an on-screen signer, or may be repeated in another language.
Some safety videos are made using three-dimensional graphics. Other videos were made to be humorous, or feature celebrities, or were based on popular movies. Many safety videos were uploaded to YouTube. The flight attendant featured in a Delta Air Lines video from 2008 has become an internet celebrity known as Deltalina. The current (as of 2021) British Airways safety video, featuring several comedians, actors and other celebrities such as Rowan Atkinson, Gordon Ramsay and Gillian Anderson, is of humorous character and seeks to raise funds for the Comic Relief charity.
In an emergency, flight attendants are trained to calmly instruct passengers how to respond, given the type of emergency.
Airlines are required to orally brief their passengers before each take-off. This requirement is set by their nation's civil aviation authority, under the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization. All airline safety videos are subtitled or shown secondarily in English as it is the lingua franca of aviation. Sometimes a video briefing is subtitled with the primary language of the country the airline is based in or the language of the city where the plane originates or flies to. This is up to the airline, but most (if not all) elect to do this through a safety briefing or demonstration delivered to all passengers at the same time. A safety demonstration typically covers all these aspects, not necessarily in this order:
The approval of using video for pre-flight safety demonstrations was originally included in FAA Advisory Circular 135-12, released on October 9, 1984. This is further explained in FAA Advisory Circular 121-24C, which stated that video offered several advantages over the standard manual demonstration, but only provided that the airliner has the required video and sound systems to exhibit the video properly.
As in-flight video entertainment systems were beginning to see mainstream introduction, airlines began producing safety demonstration videos to be used in lieu of or in tandem with a manual demonstration performed by one or more flight attendants. Notable examples include Trans World Airlines, Pan Am, and Northwest.
Early videos from the late 1980s sometimes omit warnings about electronic devices, as it was less of a concern at the time. Since smoking was still acceptable on many airliners, these videos feature antiquated reminders about smoking on board, including acceptable locations to do so and a command to stop smoking should the oxygen masks be deployed.
Videos of this era often use 2-dimensional animation or very primitive 3D computer generated imagery to illustrate elements of the demonstration. While animation is usually used sparingly, some videos are fully animated (usually in 3D), such as ATA's circa-1994 safety video.
When videos of this time were captioned, it was usually only captioned in the language already being spoken on the audio track. Bilingual videos typically had the primary language's instructions repeated verbally immediately afterward, but almost never had the secondary language captioned.
Arguably, elements of the demonstration were either overexplained, underexplained, or poorly described during this time. For instance, TWA's safety video mentioned a "slight burning odor" when oxygen masks are in use. Most demonstrations were also lacking in their explanation of electronic device policies as portable electronic devices were only beginning to become a concern.
Videos were typically designated to a specific model of aircraft but shared certain assets between videos produced by the same airline, including film recorded on a completely different aircraft. This practice continues to the modern day, although it is variably less prevalent than during the 1980s and 1990s.
By this point, airlines had found a refined format for their safety videos. Most videos, though produced differently, kept the same basic script with the same points. For instance, the Delta Air Lines safety video from 2000 and 2001 quoted one of their early '90s videos almost verbatim for most of the runtime.
Electronic device policies were also updated to include that cellular phones and other radio-based electronics are not permitted to be used at any time while other devices may be used in-flight but must be shut off for take-off and landing.
Research conducted at the University of New South Wales in Australia questions the effectiveness of these briefings in conveying key safety messages for passengers to recall and act upon in an emergency. In one study, a range of pre-recorded safety briefings were tested. One safety briefing contained humor, another was void of humor (said to reflect a standard style briefing), and another used a celebrity to sell the importance of the safety briefing and the messages contained within. Not long after being exposed to the briefing, individuals recalled approximately 50% of the key safety messages from the briefing featuring the celebrity, 45% from the briefing containing humor, and 32% from the briefing void of both a celebrity and humor. Two hours post exposure to the pre-flight safety briefings, recall decreased on average by 4% from the original levels across all conditions.