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Delta's Awesome '80s Safety Video: How ALF, One Of The Guys From Devo, And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Wound Up On The Same Flight

Wieden + Kennedy New York creative director Sean McLaughlin explains how and why the agency mined the 1980s to create a totally awesome in-flight safety video.

It's good to see that Teddy Ruxpin is still telling stories after all these years. The chatty bear as well as the extraterrestrial sitcom-star known as ALF and Devo's Gerald Casale are among the throwbacks to the 1980s featured in Delta's latest in-flight safety video, which packs a plane full of instantly recognizable references to a decade known for everything from leg warmers to Atari.

The '80s extravaganza is the latest in a series of Delta in-flight safety videos—all directed by Matt Aselton of production company Arts & Sciences. The piece is designed to be more entertaining than most in-flight safety videos, which, while full of important and potentially life-saving information, tend to be pretty dry and, frankly, boring. "The thinking behind these videos is always, ‘What can we do to get people to pay attention to these things?’" says Wieden + Kennedy creative director Sean McLaughlin, who oversees the Delta business with creative director John Parker.

Wieden + Kennedy has been creating in-flight safety videos for Delta for a couple of years now with this approach in mind. Previous efforts have featured a mash-up of visual gags like tiny suitcases and odd characters like a robot passenger, and last year's holiday video cast icons ranging from Santa Claus to Scrooge.

Why parody the 1980s this time around? "It’s a decade of such excess in every way, shape and form. It’s instant fodder for laughing at," says McLaughlin, noting that the creative team—copywriter Greg Rutter and art director Alan Buchanan—had no problem coming up with a ton of funny ’80s references.

Among McLaughlin's favorite moments in the video is ALF's appearance. The "Alien Life Form" is seen getting help putting on an oxygen mask. "Most of my childhood took place in the ’80s, and he was kind of the biggie for me. There were a lot of hours spent watching ALF," McLaughlin says.

He's not a celebrity, but Aselton’s first assistant director Adam Feil is also in the video—he is the guy who does the worm. His performance is especially impressive given that he was able to worm his way back down the aisle of a plane without kicking anyone in the face. "He’s been on all the shoots so far, and we discovered this hidden talent, and it was too good to pass up," McLaughlin says.

The flight attendants who appear in the video are all real Delta flight attendants, and the pilots are actually pilots in real-life, too. Well, the co-pilot isn't. That's basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who famously played the co-pilot in the 1980 movie Airplane! "The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Airplane! reference was pretty smart," McLaughlin says. "That was actually something we’ve been trying to get into one of the videos since the first go-round. It never felt quite right until this version."

As funny as the video is, it is an in-flight safety video, and the primary goal is to share safety information. Passengers need to be reminded to stow away their carry-on luggage, keep the aisles clear and buckle their seatbelts, and they need to know where the emergency exits are. "That’s probably the hardest part of and the biggest reward in doing these videos. You’re dealing with a script that, for the most part, is written by the government. They have a heavy hand in what you can’t say and what you have to say," McLaughlin explains. "So what ends up being fun about these projects is playing off that and finding different and interesting ways to do that where you have the visuals doing so much of the heavy lifting but in a fun way."

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