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posted: 4/6/2014 5:01 AM

In-flight entertainment rises to a whole new level

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If you were lucky enough to be on a certain Virgin-Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney recently, you would have boarded to the chorus from the musical, "The Lion King."

And it wouldn't have been piped in music or a bunch of spring break juniors singing off key. It would have been the actual cast from the production playing in Sydney.

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Talk about taking in-flight entertainment up a notch.

This isn't the first time Broadway musicals have flown with Virgin Airlines. Several years ago, just before Virgin-America took off on its maiden flight from London to Chicago, Richard Branson had the cast from "Chicago" perform in the first class lounge in London.

While professional casts from Broadway musicals may be a rarity, over the past several years, in-flight entertainment has taken off. At least when it comes to safety announcements.

For more than 30 years, all the airlines gave virtually the same ho-hum briefing. The flight attendant held up the safety card, pointed out the exits and showed you how to use a seat belt. As she clicked the belt buckle, every passenger clicked off. And if there was an emergency, very few passengers would remember where to find their life jacket or the closest exit.

Since these things are important, some of the airlines have become creative. Southwest Airlines, known for their off-the-cuff wit, give some of their announcements in rhyme or rap. Other carriers have taken it to new levels with professional productions. Some of them are worthy of awards. Here are the ones I would choose:

• Air Zealand would take the gold. They've used Richard Simmons in spandex, Betty White and her senior friends, and a streaking grandmother with the members of the New Zealand rugby team to grab the attention of their passengers. And they set the mood for the whole flight. It's hard not to enjoy yourself after watching these antics.

• I'd give the silver to Virgin America for their break dancing, Glee-inspired safety tape. Singing flight attendants and a contortionist, who does things in a passenger seat most of us can't imagine, keep you on your toes -- your tapping toes to be exact.

• The bronze metal should go to Thomson Airways, the largest charter carrier in the world, which flies between England, Ireland and the rest of Europe. They use cute kids to pass the message. You can't help but pay attention to a five-year old flying a plane.

• Honorable mention should go to Delta Air Lines. In November, they presented a holiday-themed announcement. Christmas tree lights demonstrated using electronic equipment in-flight. Santa Claus and an elf donned the oxygen masks. And a wooden soldier stowed his hat in an overhead bin.

Delta also used a 1980s theme which used props from the decade to make their point. Two girls with big hair demonstrated blocking the aisles with their side ponytails.

But besides being entertaining, the announcements work. Passengers pay attention instead of nodding off when the safety briefing runs. These announcements need to be taken seriously. And this seems to work best with a dose of good humor.

Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com

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