During the past few years, certain airlines have incurred substantial expense in using various techniques, especially videos, to improve the quality of cabin and flight safety announcements. In each case, the intention has been to make the announcements attention-grabbing so that passengers more readily absorb the safety information provided, making them better equipped to help themselves and others in an emergency. Sadly, these airlines are in the minority.
Far too many airlines pay little, if any, attention to the quality of the safety announcements made by their cabin crew. Many cabin crew seem to find it a challenge to race through “these boring announcements that have to be made on every flight” with the objective of getting this task finished in the shortest possible time. A simple test for individual crewmembers and managers to apply is “Would I understand this if I were having to translate it simultaneously into my mother tongue?”
The growth in air traffic has resulted in flights carrying a greater breadth of nationalities and, of course, it would be impracticable for everyone on board a flight to have an announcement in their native language. However, English is increasingly widely spoken and it frequently serves as a second language for cabin announcements worldwide. Even so, it cannot be assumed that an announcement given at speed in any language will be understood by those passengers with only a modest command of that language.
I have to admit that the worst cases that I have encountered have been on domestic flights out of New York, on which the cabin crew concerned have spoken at such a rate that even I, with English as my mother tongue, have not understood what was being said. Anyone with limited competency in English, and thus having to mentally translate into their own tongue, stood no chance whatsoever.
Safety announcements are made for good reasons, and those airlines that have made clear efforts to improve their effectiveness are to be applauded. Individual crewmembers should always moderate the pace of their announcements, change the inflexion of their voices to indicate emphasis and have the confidence to speak slowly and clearly.
One of the best safety announcements I have ever heard was during a pushback on a flight from Brussels. The captain came on the cabin address system and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it takes us six weeks to train our cabin crew, we have only three minutes to train you, so please put down your newspapers and listen to and watch what my cabin crew are about to demonstrate.” Everyone obeyed.
(Editor’s note: ASW welcomes TC’s correction and willingness to provide technical expertise and authoritative updates for future coverage of this subject.)
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