The decadelong move to turn the once mundane in-flight safety video into campy entertainment is about to reach new heights, or lows, depending on your perspective.
Coming to a flight near you on June 1, Chicago-based United Airlines will use a slickly produced Spider-Man vignette to inform passengers how to fasten their safety belts, put on their oxygen masks and use their seats as flotation devices in the event of a water landing.
The nearly five-minute video, which intersperses the standard flight attendant demonstrations with scenes of the Marvel superhero rounding up a rowdy gang causing "turbulence" at a corner store, is an unabashed promotional tie-in with Sony Pictures ahead of its July theatrical movie release of "Spider-Man: Far From Home."
In addition to Spider-Man and several actors from the movie, United CEO Oscar Munoz makes a cameo appearance in the safety/promotional video.
The partnership includes a brief role for the airline in the movie, as Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter-ego, flies to Europe on a United plane, while Sony Pictures helped produce the safety video, which will run through October.
United spokeswoman Natalie Noonan declined to provide the terms of the promotional partnership.
"We're not sharing a specific amount, but know that this partnership provides United with a unique opportunity to team up with a beloved franchise," Noonan said in an email Monday.
Business-class passengers will also get a Spider-Man amenity kit featuring an eye mask, socks, tissues, ear plugs, a toothbrush and a pen, as well as skin care products, through July.
Coach passengers will see the video and probably get a tiny bag of pretzels, but no Spider-Man swag, according to Noonan.
The idea of jazzing up the painfully stiff, Federal Aviation Administration-mandated in-fight safety videos has picked up steam over the last decade, starting with a playful 2007 cartoon on then-startup Virgin Airlines. Since then, airlines have been outdoing themselves with increasingly elaborate and high-concept productions, ranging from a cheesy El Al technopop offering to an epic Air New Zealand "Lord of the Rings" safety video employing an Orc on the oxygen mask demonstration.
The clever and big budget Air New Zealand safety video has been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube.
While many airlines subscribe to the theory that creative in-flight videos increase passenger attention, a recent University of Utah study reached a different conclusion. Instead of knowing where the emergency exit doors are and other safety instructions, most passengers remember "irrelevant details" of the entertaining videos.
Perhaps a greater concern for United may be the timing of the video, which premieres as the airline industry is grappling with fallout from the FAA grounding of all Boeing 737 Max jets in the wake of two fatal plane crashes.
United said the lighthearted approach to the safety video is far from tone-deaf, and entirely by design.
"At United, safety is our top priority and we take this responsibility with the utmost seriousness," Noonan said. "We designed this video to be entertaining while still being educational for customers. This fast-pace mini-drama safety video will encourage customers to pay closer attention to our safety briefing and become familiar with the aircraft they are flying on."