Incredible journey: Every Air New Zealand safety video, a timeline

It was 2009 when Air New Zealand created its first novelty safety video in a bid to make passengers care about seatbelts and where their lifejackets were. Little did we know, it was the beginning of a legacy; one that would span 14 years, 20 videos and an increasingly absurd collection of props, guest stars, settings and costumes.

To celebrate the latest release, Thomas Bywater and Sarah Pollok hunt down and review Air NZ’s 19 previous safety videos in an ultimate power ranking out of 10.

6.0 – Bare Essentials of Safety (2009)

In a world of mundane safety videos, Bare Essentials of Safety was a pretty *ahem* ballsy move. At first glance, it seems like any regular video until you realise the twist; all the staff are naked aside from perfectly applied body paint. It may have caused a stir when first released but knowing now what absurd and outrageous videos would later come, the approach seems somewhat elegant in its simplicity.

2.0 – Safety with Rico (2010)

AirNZ’s first video, featuring naked flight attendants, left big shoes to fill. Shoes the Air NZ team evidently felt were best filled with puppets. Or, more specifically, a rodent-like creature called Rico whose inaccurate-verging-on-offensive accent, lewd jokes and unshakable persistence seems like a nod to the inappropriate uncle you can find at any extended family event. Both, in our opinion, are best endured either with a strong drink in hand, or noise cancelling headphones. Maybe both.

4.0 – Crazy About Rugby (2011)

Released for domestic flights to celebrate the Rugby World Cup, this one stars Richie McCaw, Graham Henry and other All Black legends. From the music (Why Does Love Do This To Me), to the setting (a stock standard plane), the flip phones and simple graphics, the whole thing has a quaint, low-budget feel, like a video you make in highschool media studies. Safe? Sure, but falls short on the wow factor we’ve come to expect from Air NZ.

4.5 – Mile-high madness with Richard Simmons! (2011)

I don’t know if it’s my soft spot for dance fitness classes and rhinestones but I have a soft spot for this outrageously random video starring Famed fitness instructor Richard Simmons. It’s both so earnest yet also so severely cringe, you can never quite work out if Air NZ are trying (and failing) to be “quirky and cool” or know full well people will love to hate it. All we can say is, Simmons’ perky voice isn’t the most soothing thing to hear during an early morning flight.

3.0 – Safety in Paradise (2012)

Despite featuring 5 Sports Illustrated models in the Cook Islands, all I can see when watching this 2012 video is a conference table of Steves, Marks, and Johns thinking this is a “terrifically superb” idea. However, the ensuring debate about objectification aside, we’re scoring this low simply because it’s boring. After setting the bar high for being quick witted and clever, this one seems to lazily rely on pure aesthetic, sandy beaches and toned bodies, to keep our attention.

4.0 – Ed & Melanie's Safety Sketch (2012)

An Air NZ safety video featuring Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Snoop Dog, Ed O’Neil (Modern Family) and Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) would be eye-wateringly expensive. Unless they were all in cartoon form. Which feels like the tactic behind this creative but slightly slow-moving safety video. Nonetheless, points for taking a risk and using a format no international safety video has used before.

5.5 – Safety Old School Style (2013)

A moment of silence for what was Air NZ’s last sexually-questionable in-flight safety video, ushering in a future of PG13 appropriateness. This one goes out with a Betty White bang, featuring the B-list celeb in a Florida retirement home with her older friends who are overly eager to prove they’ve still “got it”. With no Kiwi personalities, landscapes or icons in sight, it doesn’t exactly put the ‘New Zealand’ in Air New Zealand but earns some chuckles nonetheless.

6.5 – The Bear Essentials of Safety (2013)

Just how plane-related does an airline safety video need to be? This seems to be the question Air NZ asked themselves as they filmed Bear Grylls bantering around the great outdoors. The strong featuring of NZ’s world-class scenery, dynamic cinematography, and inclusion of enough airline props to still make sense, is a great base. But without the quick wit and humour we’ve come to expect from an Air NZ video, it falls a little flat.

6.0 – The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made (2014)

13 years after the Lord of the Rings, New Zealand was still firmly on the map as “Middle-earth”. Featuring orks, elves and Elijah wood – it appeals to international travellers on a fantasy escape to New Zealand. The “Epic” video might be peak Air NZ safety video. The Wētā-workshop SFX are laid on thick – but it’s a celebration of Wellywood. An ode to now absent Tolkien nerds of Matamata.

3.0 – Men in Black Safety Defenders (2015)

The MIB safety spinoff is one memory we can’t erase. Try as we might. Even NZ’s own Men in Black (the ABs) and sticking horns on Martin Johnson couldn’t save this fumble. From the off, Israel Dagg’s delivery lands flat footed. Rapping would continue to be a sore point for the airline – see 2018’s entry “It’s Kiwi Safety”

5.5 – Surfing Safari (2015)

Safety was left to hang 5 in this beach bum of a video – it’s a full 50 seconds before any mention of seatbelts, crew or anything vaguely instructive. Kiwi surf stars Maz Quinn and Paige Herb are joined by some of the biggest names and waves on the Air NZ network. Filmed at Malibu and Raglan, Sir Hollywood the surfing dog gets a cameo. The video landed them in hot water with the CAA, who said it was a showcase for surfing not safety. It may be light on safety content but gets passengers beach ready before takeoff.

3.0 – Safety in Hollywood (2016)

Eleven. That’s the number of safety videos it took before things took a very meta turn that saw Rhys Darby and Anna Farris make a safety video about making a safety video. The result is a multi-genre feature that seems more occupied with hitting as many Hollywood tropes as possible than safety protocols. Instead, that’s a job left to the poor Air NZ crew who are shoved between the jokes and drama like real-life legal disclaimers required in order to get past the CAA.

8.5 – Summer of Safety (2016)

Nothing too fancy, not too difficult, and sure to please all the family – it’s easy to see why Air NZ picked Northland for this pre-flight message. It’s a crowdpleaser that keeps expectations and annoyance at a minimum. The roadtrip to Reinga with Rachel Hunter and Jayden Daniels goes through the familiar motions of the SH1 northbound. It has the predictability and cadence of a packed car journey. The “winterless” safety video is one that Air NZ keeps coming back to, rescreening it on planes in 2019.

5.0 – A Fantastical Journey (2017)

The safety video equivalent of counting sheep. Air NZ threw away the script for this one. Inexplicably it was picked up by US actors Cuba Gooding Jr. and Katie Holmes. Why? Nevermind, look over here. It’s a safety video filled with CGI trickery, greenscreen magic, and zero exposition. The overall effect is just a little dull. One presumes they were going for a dream-sequence and ended in snoozeville.

-10.0 – It's Kiwi Safety (2018)

Making a musical safety video that’s informative, fun and pain-free? It’s tricky, tricky, tricky. Riffing off Run DMC’s hit, Julian Dennison takes a trip around Aotearoa. It was a hard landing for the vid trying to “rock a rhyme that’s safe and fly”. The $25m video was canned after countless complaints and just two months on planes.

6.0 – World's Coolest Safety Video (2018)

Air New Zealand and Antarctica? The airline should have known it was on thin ice. Filmed at Scott Base and IAC in Christchurch, the vid celebrated our unique relation to the White Continent, while skating over some major chapters. The Erebus disaster and flight NZ109 were notably absent. Even 40 years after the crash, many considered poor it taste.

7.5 – Air All Blacks (2019)

Another Rugby World Cup year, another All Black safety video. Steve Hanson and the gang return to the top secret lab of 2015s ‘MIB safety defenders’. After countless fumbles, Air NZ pass the task to the safest hands they know. Promising “no rapping and no complicated safety instructions” it’s a performance that delivers results. Shame about the Webb Ellis Cup.

6.0 – Janey's adventure…(2020)

“A Takahē? in the wild?” Following Mr T’s journey to Tiritiri Matangi is pleasantly passable. Set as a surreal playdate with DoC’s native species relocation programme, the inoffensive fare gets the safety message across and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The risk-averse safety video could be seen as “ho-hum”. We say, it’s a rare species that should be encouraged.

8.0 – Discover the 8th Wonder (2020)

It’s a safety video from a very unusual time in the network.No Elvish, no star cameos, no overseas destinations. Closed borders and Air NZ’s transformation to a 95 per-cent domestic-only network meant the post-pandemic video landed a bit differently. Although they had the benefit of playing to a home audience. It’s a celebration of domestic travel and subtleties that a Kiwi-only cabin can appreciate. (When’s the next time there’ll be time to feature “Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu” in a safety video?)

Tiaki & The Guardians (2022)

“Tihei mauri ora. Welcome to our world.” The latest safety video Tiaki & The Guardians is something new, not just for its embracing te ao Māori.

You might wonder how it is we had safety instructions in Elvish on the national airline before te reo Māori, or why it has taken 14 years to get a bi-lingual video from Air New Zealand. It was worth the wait.

Perhaps it was the fear of taking on the weighty theme and bungling it.

It’s safe to say they’ve pulled it off.

Tying into the theme of ‘Tiaki’, the video promotes stewardship for Aotearaoa/New Zealand. Air New Zealnd might be the only airline in the world encouraging catch and release fishing while locating passenger lifejackets. It is as much about safeguarding the health of the land as it is of passengrs.

Toitū te marae a Tāne, Toitū te marae a Tangaroa, Toitū te tangata.
If the land is well and the sea is well, the people will thrive.

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