Setting the record straight about that John Travolta Qantas safety video

Travolta in 707 cockpit.JPGJohn Travolta arrives in his 707, Jett Clipper Ella, at the Qantas 90th birthday celebrations in Brisbane last November. A small group of Qantas staff are upset with his appearance in the airline’s safety video. Photo: Will Horton

Some stories are so sensationalist and lacking in objectivity that they deserve not to be talked about, especially when there are real and substantial safety matters elsewhere.

Such, I thought, was the Daily Telegraph’s article (I use that term loosely) that a group of Qantas flight attendants and pilots are upset over John Travolta’s cameo in the safety video shown on most Qantas flights.

Now the story has gone viral and deserves for the record to be set straight.

For context, the video is four months old now. Why is it an issue now? With Qantas management possibly taking a preemptive strike last month to galvanize support for the company as it enters labour negotiations, are unions using this matter to have the public be on their side instead of management’s?

For the facts, Qantas employees take issue with two matters. First is Travolta’s use of the word “team” to refer to employees working the flight. Travolta says in the video’s introduction:

This is your captain speaking–well, maybe not today. But I can guarantee that the guys on the flight deck and the greater team care just as much about aircraft safety as I do. I’ve been flying over 40 years as a pilot and I can tell you, there’s no one I’d rather have at the controls than a Qantas pilot.

Employee commentators say they would prefer the word “crew”. After Travolta’s cameo, the video alternates between “crew” and “team”. Anecdotal comments from pilots on Twitter say they would prefer “crew” to “team”, but that there is a blurry line that makes this issue a moot point.

“Crew resource management is about teamwork,” one comment says. Another equates the crew/team debate to one in the police profession over if members are part of a “force” or “service”, with the conclusion the debate “doesn’t change the dynamic of the operation”. It shouldn’t change aviation either.

The second matter the group takes issue with is Travolta introducing the video instead of a “real pilot”. (Travolta is a real pilot, flying his 707 to Australia as recent as last November for Qantas’s 90th birthday celebrations, but I’ll presume the Qantas employee means a “real Qantas pilot”.) Travolta’s featuring in the video is all marketing and image-related, and that’s fine. Sir Richard Branson has his share of cameos too.

The Telegraph quotes one Qantas staffer calling for Captain de Crespigny, who was in control of VH-OQA during the QF32 incident last November, to introduce the video. With all due respect to de Crespigny, would you want a safety video to be introduced by a pilot who says he saved 450-odd people from erupting into flames mid-air on the same airline you’re about to fly with? (It’s humorous to imagine the comments Qantas crews might have if management took their suggestion. Damned if you, damned if you don’t.)

The one genuine issue I can see with the video is Travolta ignoring gender equality when referring to the “guys on the flight deck”. But I’m not going to be the one to raise that issue.


3 Responses to Setting the record straight about that John Travolta Qantas safety video

  1. David Flynn March 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Will, your point about the timing of this (in relation to possible industrial action) is a (typically) very canny observation!

    For myself and many other frequent flyers it’s just been a sore point from Day 1 – that Qantas feels it needs John Travolta for this, indeed ANY Yank for this, especially while piling on the smarm.

    Obviously the Tele’s coverage has tipped the JT video into the mainstream and I think for the greater public, the point I’ve mentioned above is much more the issue than the ‘team vs crew’ thing.

    So let’s divorce those. Cabin crew caring about team vs crew vs gang vs posse is one thing but relatively narrow in scope and yes, could easily be seen from the _outside_ (by the greater public) as a bit precious.

    But the larger issue I believe is why Qantas has JT in the first place? Yes, PR and US market aside, but why does he need to be on the safety video? Okay, a little star power ‘gotcha’ to make people pay attention? That would dissolve after the first dollop of smarm (nb: one imperial dollop of smarm is equivalent to 1.8 metric dollops).

    I’d much rather they be more creative, such as AirNZ has been; or stick with an Aussie.


    PS I actually do believe that we could make a go of ‘posse’ instead of ‘team’ or ‘crew’. “Yo, pax, wassup? This is da captain, thas right, I’m the man on this QF32, an’ me and my posse we’s gonna take good care of you, know what I’m sayin’? so just chill fo’ the next eight hours. Hey, shout out to the peeps way down the back in economy – how y’all doin back there? Tha’s right, make some noise!!”

  2. Solidstatelight March 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Brilliantly worded thoughts of a mature mind. Nice to read sesne after all.

  3. Will Horton April 10, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Hi David–your comment got caught in our spam filter and I’ve only approved just now.

    There’s clearly another side of you I don’t know, but rest assured this side will keep me laughing all morning. As for your proposal of “posse” and complementary sample intro speech, that’s something even Air NZ won’t be able to top.

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