For Some Flight Attendants, Schtick Comes With the Safety Spiel


A video of Marty Cobb’s comedic version of safety instructions for Southwest Airlines spread quickly online and led to appearances on national television.

Cooper Neill for The New York Times

As the American Airlines flight swooped in over the New York Harbor on its way into La Guardia Airport one evening last month, Joe Howell grabbed the microphone and began his tour.

“For those of you on the left-hand side just off the wing, you’ll see the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island,” Mr. Howell began, his baritone carrying all the authority of his 44 years as a flight attendant. “The Statue of Liberty opened originally in 1886. Grover Cleveland was the presiding president.”

This went on for several minutes. Against a smattering of groans, he offered details of the statue’s copper plates (there are 500, handmade), the birthplace of the designer (Alsace) and Liberty Island’s original name (Bedloe’s Island).

“Now if you look on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge along the East River,” he added, “that is the South Street Seaport!”

Unlike checked bags and exit-row seating, the aerial tour was free.

Mr. Howell’s routine is a relic of a bygone age when air travel was something anticipated, not endured, and flight attendants did more than look out for safety and delivered more than peanuts and tomato juice. They used to think of themselves, according to those like Mr. Howell with long enough memories, as hosts and hostesses of an exclusive party.

But in today’s age of consolidation, when even the uniforms have lost their élan, much of that individual charm has worn off.

Still, some flight attendants are not going gently. They are still doing what they can to keep passengers entertained or informed beyond pushing a button to play the video recordings of the in-flight safety videos.

Consider Jack Sullivan, a Southwest Airways flight attendant who impersonates Elvis, complete with the sunglasses and scarves.