Until Air New Zealand reinvented them, in-flight safety videos used to be utterly boring to watch. We would be advised in soothing tones what to do "in the unlikely event of an emergency". We should "follow the instructions of your crew" and take note of the "safety features on board this aircraft" such as life-jackets and "floor strip lighting" which will guide us to the exit.

Furthermore, should oxygen masks appear before us we should "breathe normally". Many of us could recite the entire script word for word. I knew it off by heart (hand signals, fake smiles and all) when I was a teenager and harboured (still unfulfilled) dreams of being a flight attendant.

When Air New Zealand launched its groundbreaking "Bare Essentials" safety video featuring cast members wearing nothing but body paint, the world took notice. It was captivating, jaw-dropping. It went viral. The clip attracted over 7-million hits. People watched it for fun, for entertainment. Turning a duty, a chore, an aviation requirement into something we wanted to see was sheer genius.

This first effort was so successful (and so surprising) that subsequent versions were viewed with suspicion. However, the All Blacks and the Hobbit safety videos mostly satisfied the viewing public.


Unfortunately, Richard Simmons' "Fit to Fly" safety video - which incorporated sparkly tank-tops, headbands, disco flooring and a Paul Henry cameo - was undeniably cheesy and lacked broad appeal. It possessed so much colour, flamboyance and zaniness that the original "Bare Essentials" video seemed quite tame in comparison.

At least the early versions of the safety briefings were filmed on board an aircraft.

Subsequent safety videos were shot all over the place. The Bear Grylls' version was filmed outdoors on the Routeburn Track while Betty White's one was located at the (fictitious) Second Wind Retirement Resort. Call me old-fashioned but I reckon safety videos ought to be shot inside a plane. I just don't think the core message is reinforced while we're distracted by the scenery.

This is a theory that will be put to the test when Air New Zealand's latest safety video is released. According to Swimsuit video lands Air NZ in hot water, it was produced in conjunction with US magazine Sports Illustrated and will feature "cavorting swimsuit models" in a "beach setting".

The "Safety in Paradise" video has been described by one related party as "tasteful" while another labelled it "raucous". We will have to wait and see which description is true. In the meantime, feminists are protesting that it's inappropriate for our national carrier to be objectifying women in this manner.

One correspondent to the NZ Herald wrote: "Women's bodies are so frequently objectified in advertising that many are desensitised to it, so it's almost surprising it has caused a stir before official release ... Perhaps this is an opportunity to raise awareness of how women are represented in the media, and to start a meaningful dialogue about the harmful effects of this on our young women and society at large."

Of course, the welfare of society at large is unlikely to be the primary concern of any commercial airline. Like its predecessors, this safety video is designed to gain maximum media coverage. Simply by discussing it, we are furthering the aims of whoever is behind this savvy public relations initiative.

Air New Zealand's videos have become the stuff of legends. As reported in Betty White straps in for new Air NZ safety video, the "airline's safety videos have collectively clocked up more than 25 million views online and have featured in coverage by global media outlets, such as CNN, BBC and the New York Times".


The purpose of this latest controversial production is to lift the airline's global profile and to promote the Pacific as an exotic destination. Despite its core function as a safety video, it's not been designed to necessarily please the people who are already strapped into their seats. The executive decision has been made that it's worth disappointing some passengers in order to work with a magazine that reaches 70-million people. The airline is clearly prepared to endure a few pursed lips and criticism from feminists in return for a heightened level of international exposure.

Debate on this article is now closed.