Was reading a piece in the Journal (subscription only) saying Delta Air Lines’ Song division is going to plug the CD by Better Than Ezra (a band that last had a hit 10 years ago) to passengers, a captive audience Delta have just realised they can sell anything to so long as they batter them hard enough:
Better Than Ezra released its last and only big hit (“Good”) in 1995. But the one-hit wonder from the mid-’90s is on the forefront of an odd new experiment in promoting and selling music. The group’s new album is being released by Song Records, a collaborative effort between the airline, Artemis Records and Creative Branding Group Inc., a Los Angeles marketing company.
I can hear all sorts of people groaning about this. How bad do things have to get before you try and flog an over-the-hill rock band to people trapped inside an airplane? But it also made me think more generally about airlines and the whole sound thing. Why are the sounds they use, for example, the more soothing the more danger the passengers are in? The little ‘doong’ sound that means the seat-belt sign is on — “So get back to your seat, buckle up tight, we’re about to throw you around the cabin!” Who came up with that sound? Were they all sitting around their office at Boeing or Airbus and thinking what kind of sound could we have which wouldn’t frighten the bejesus out of the passengers, but which doesn’t sound like the passenger sitting next to them snoring? Was there a guy with a xylophone in the board room playing notes and waiting for the suits to say ‘that one! That’s the one which will calm down skittish fliers and sober up the drunken ones!’ Imagine you’re hearing that sound for the first time. ‘Doong’. It sounds kinda nice. “Ooo! A surprise!” No, it means you’re going to die.
Then there’s the piped muzak. They always put this on when something bad is about to happen, when you’re about to hit turbulence, or lose altitude, or when one of the wings has fallen off. Everyone’s screaming, praying, losing their hair, and you hear ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ played on a xylophone. Malaysian Airlines, I notice, plays Elton John’s Song For Guy during these special moments. Great. Do they know it’s about Elton John’s despatch rider who was killed in a car crash?
Then there’s the safety demonstration. The attendants are always smiling when they do this. The music is always cheesy, as if to say, “in the unlikely event of this airplane not making it, we’re going to inflate these life-rafts and have a picnic. It’ll be like a party. You each get these yellow vests and disco whistles, and we’ll even turn on some party lights. Only they’ll be on the floor, which is where you’ll be spending most of your time. It’ll be fun!”
I think they should be more honest. I think the safety demonstration should scare the hell out of passengers. I think they should start with something like “There’s a nine percent chance this plane will crash, a four percent chance it won’t take off, a two percent chance the pilot is considering suicide, a 0.45 percent chance the plane will just spontaneously combust without us ever really knowing why. We’d like to show you how you can improve your chances of survival by as much as 0.06 percent by wearing a piece of rubber over your head and curling up under your seat. Now if anyone still wants to fly, please remain seated and wait for the peanuts. And here’s another track from Better than Ezra.”