It will be the same advice once again; the ninth time in less than a fortnight. We are on the runway at Amsterdam airport on the last leg of our journey back from the Galápagos Islands [see The power of observation, Greyhares, 21 July 2016]. The plane waits prior to take off. The screen in front drops down and a calm and authoritative woman comes into focus and asks me to listen carefully even if I have heard the message before. As always, I comply. I have not missed such a message yet. As always, the video tells me how I should behave during the flight and, more importantly, what I should do in the event of an emergency.
However repetitious the message may be, for me, listening is obligatory. I have neither flight phobia nor claustrophobia, but, hearing the advice, I am calmed and reassured. With such instructions, it demonstrates that the crew and the airline are concerned about my well-being and, more importantly in the event of a crash, if I behave as they advise, I could survive. For me, the provision of authoritative instructions is part of the rules of engagement of air travel – “If you fly with us and follow our instructions we will ensure your welfare” – and that suits me well. Call me superstitious, unrealistic or plain bonkers, but paying careful attention to this pre-takeoff ritual has become an essential part of my flight routine.
Not surprisingly, I was similarly attentive when our guide on the Galápagos boat delivered his security advice soon after we boarded for our trip around the islands. The message was much the same as for flying, but as might be imagined, there was no mention of any falls in cabin pressure, more stress was placed on how to behave in the event of turbulence at sea, and, rather unexpectedly, our captain’s skills were lauded unstintingly. He was once, we were told, a local fisherman and so had an intimate knowledge of the local tides, rocks, reefs, currents and sandbanks. With him at the helm, and aided by the boat’s state-of the-art radar, echo-sounder, satellite navigation systems and short wave radio, we were in good hands. Indeed, our guide had never before felt so secure. I was reassured, a feeling reinforced when we were introduced on the bridge to all the members of our smiling, uniformed crew, from the aforementioned captain, to his two vice-captains, down to the cleaning lady.
So what happens if the rules of engagement are breached? I felt very ill-at ease when, on a short flight between the Ecuadorian mainland and the Archipelago, the advice was given by our air hostess in indecipherable English. And, based on the Air France safety video shown on international flights, I have decided to avoid ever giving them my custom. On that carrier, the instructions, which are given with the help of five giggling, dancing and pouting models, trivialise the message and so breach my rules of engagement. And all is made worse by the presenter’s suggestion that passengers should securely fasten their seat belts as it “elegantly highlights your waistline”, that not smoking is “simply chic” and that switching one’s electronic devices into airplane mode is “trendy”.
I understand why flight safety videos need to be attention grabbing – and I know that in reality whatever video is shown it will have little bearing on my survival in the event of some in-flight catastrophe, but I do want the airline to take me seriously and in this respect Air France fails.
But there were other, more serious, forms of breach. While on the boat I made it my business to get to know the captain. Although on holiday in an equatorial paradise, I was keen to know the results of the European Football final in Paris and the men’s singles final at Wimbledon, and only the captain had the wherewithal to link up with the outside world. Occasionally I would knock on the wheelhouse door to ask him my question. On one such occasion, I gingerly opened the door only to see him dozing on a bench and the ship’s cleaner standing in his place at the helm.
Perhaps I am unusual, but I want those in charge of a plane or a boat to take seriously their security responsibilities and that includes giving clear, authoritative advice. Serious issues need serious responses and trivialising, or breaching won’t do.
And, by the way, after four days at sea I learned that Portugal had won the football, although it was not until on my way home that I discovered that Murray had won at Wimbledon. Clearly tennis was not something our captain found interesting.