In-Flight Entertainment

I recently took an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Rome.

Whoa. It's been ten years since I've flown internationally. A LOT has changed. For starters, each seat now has its own entertainment unit. The last time I was on a flight long enough to warrant a movie and meal service, we were all forced to watch the one movie playing on the drop-down TVs all over the plane, which was most likely the edited version of "My Cousin Vinny." These days, you have choices. And oh, the choices you have!

You can play "Plants vs. Zombies" for 10 straight hours! Or you can choose a movie from one of many categories, including "Romance", "Action", and "Classics." Upon further investigation, the categories get very specific, like "Independence Day," which basically features the movie "Independence Day." Or you could look into "Marvel Studios," which includes many of the Marvel superhero movies, from the first "Iron Man" to "Black Panther." I mean, there are some serious options here! I finally got to see a movie made in the last decade!

Also, did you know that there's a whole channel devoted to Ethan Hawke? Yes, you read that correctly.

I mean, I have nothing against Ethan Hawke, but I'm really surprised that his body of work warrants its own channel. I wonder what kind of deal his agent struck with American Airlines to give him the only channel named after one actor. Even Audrey Hepburn doesn't have that kind of clout.

Speaking of Audrey Hepburn, I decided to really do a deep dive into the movies listed as "Classics." If you know me, you know that I LOVE old movies. I was happy to see "Roman Holiday" and "North by Northwest" on the list. I was a little surprised by "Jaws," and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but I'll concede both of those. However, I stand firmly by my opinion that Zach Ephron's film, "17 Again" probably should not qualify as such. I sat in my seat really pondering who authorized that categorization. I think that my imagination might have run away with me, but, seriously, can you imagine this conversation? "Okay, everyone. We're a little light in the Classics category. We've got Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Yes, Jerry, 'Casablanca's' in for sure. What else do we have? Anything with Zach Ephron?" I mean, what the what?

Don't get me wrong. I'm loving the in-flight entertainment system. I was able to chart our flight and see where we were over the ocean, which, of course, made me imagine all sorts of horrible ways of dying over the cold, black sea, never to have my body recovered. (Ah, the dark side of the imagination bubbles up in the most inconvenient of places!) I also learned all sorts of interesting names for geographic regions of the oceans. So educational!

However, perhaps the most entertaining thing shown on entertainment system was the American Airlines safety video. Holy high-quality video production, Batman. The more you see it, the funnier it gets. In case you haven't had the privilege of watching it, you can see it here. The whole thing is bananas, but here are my highlights:

  1. For starters, kudos to the team who came up with doing an airplane safety video in what looks like a black box theater. It appears they have a much, much larger budget than most of the Chicago theatre community combined, as they have rented out an entire airplane hanger. Clearly, the spaciousness of an open warehouse and the cabin of an airplane are completely comparable. I also especially applaud the decision to use not-actual-airplane seats. It really gives those actors an extra challenge to look like they are bringing their seat backs up from a reclining position (0:58). (Suck it in, ladies!)

  2. Without a doubt, the best, most ridiculous moment is at 1:11 when an escapee from Blue Man Group seems to be hiding behind an unsuspecting passenger. (Tobias Fünke, anyone?!) I might have actually snorted. I have to imagine how totally awkward it was for these poor actors to film this scene. You have one guy, Actor No. 1, in a suit, sitting in a not-an-actual-airplane seat with another actor, Actor No. 2 (presumably male by the hands), painted totally blue, who keeps reaching around him to grab things out of his hands. (I mean, how many times did Actor No. 1 get hit in the face by a blue hand?) THEN, the totally unexpected comes in the form of his seat belt being ANOTHER PAIR OF PAINTED HANDS. Silver this time. So, wait. Now you have Actor No. 1 sitting in a not-an-actual airplane seat with Actor No. 2 painted blue hiding behind his back and another actor, Actor No. 3, painted silver also hiding behind his seat with his hands on Actor No. 1's tummy, while blue guy Actor No. 2 tries not to fall over Actor No. 3 or be seen by the camera? Stop it. I can't. I cannot. I don't know the pay scale that those three actors are on, but I can tell you that it's not enough. Call from agent, "Hey! You booked the American spot! Yeah, super-easy for you. You just have to wedge yourself behind a chair with your hands clasped over some guy's abdomen. Easy money! Just don't drop your hands too low." And it's all done without so much as a smirk. Hey, Actor No. 1! Random painted people are taking things out of your hands and you don't even show a hint of, "What fresh hell is this?" This may be the most insane 25 seconds I've seen in years. Gloriously ridiculous.

  3. The escape lighting segment looks like something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. All they need are roller skates. Or cat makeup. (2:30)

  4. Now, possibly, the most poorly conceived part is at 2:46, when the cabin loses pressure and a mother and daughter duo are faced with needing to put their oxygen masks on. Now, I can say with some certainty that everyone agrees this is serious business. I don't mean to make light of this entirely, but ... Good Earth, Casting Directors!!! You've cast a pre-teen in the role of a three-year-old unable to put her mask on. The masks drop down and she looks at her mother like, "Are you going to quarter my grapes?" Heaven help me if I ever have a child this helpless.

  5. The delightful raven-haired, dulcet-toned actress playing the flight attendant is on her game! I mean, she jumps onto a slide and pops up with the grace and agility of a jungle cat, then neatly smooths down her tailored jacket. Then, after she films all of it in English, the whole cast has to go through the whole thing again in total silence so that foreign languages can be dubbed over it. This four-minute, twenty-one-second video probably took a minimum twenty hours to film. That big cast party at the end was almost certainly totally caffeine-laced. I particularly enjoy the random crew guy who comes jumping across the front at the end. The emergency-light-holder dance party is also fun. Now, I looked, and I mean REALLY looked, for the Blue Man and Silver Guy at the end. Elusive. Let me know if you find them. I couldn't. Maybe they were scrubbing off body paint. Or continuing to blend into the background like a real-life "Where's Waldo?"

So, the next time you find yourself on an American Airlines plane and get treated by this delightful bit of crazy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I will say, I did actually pay attention to it, so maybe they got their money's worth after all!

Side note: Not to be exclusive, I took a look at United's Safety Video. Bhahahahahaha!!! That's going to need to be an entirely different post. I guess I'll just have to plan another trip.

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Allison Harvey