Published March 23, 2008
ATLANTA – Before YouTube, redheaded, blue-eyed, high-cheekboned Katherine Lee was just another beautiful flight attendant who worked for the nation's third-largest airline.
Next month, up to 80 million Delta Air Lines passengers worldwide will know her as the face of Delta's newest safety video, in which Lee walks fliers through government-mandated safety instructions with a smile and a playful wag of the finger.
Lee breathes fresh life into the phrase, "Make sure your seat belt is fastened," establishing a new focal point of interest for frequent fliers tempted to tune out the routine message.
The safety video generated such a buzz after being posted on the Atlanta-based airline's corporate blog and on the video Web site YouTube that admirers dubbed the 33-year-old Atlanta woman "Deltalina," a combination of the airline's name and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who they say she resembles.
"The main focus is to get our customers' attention and make sure they know what to do in the event of an emergency ... adding bits of humor and unexpected twists to something pretty standard," says Chris Babb, a Delta product manager in charge of producing the video. "We went through a rebranding last spring — we wanted to do something that injected the new brand, portrayed Delta in a more modern way."
The airline declined to disclose how much the video cost to produce.
On the soundtrack behind the mandatory Federal Aviation Administration safety instructions — such as how to buckle a seat belt, how to wear an oxygen mask and when to put away a cell phone — the new video is backed by a smooth jazz drumbeat and ethereal electronic tones. In one spot, the viewer suddenly sees a digital sparkle on the smile of a shaven-headed male flight attendant who is demonstrating how to properly wear a life vest.
There's also the finger wag. Halfway through the 4-1/2 minute video, Lee unexpectedly and playfully wags a long finger at the camera while instructing that "Smoking ... is not allowed, on any Delta flight."
"I hope they are holding classes for all ... FAs (flight attendants) on how to do the finger-wag," one viewer wrote on the Internet airline forum Flyertalk.com.
Every few years, airlines typically refresh safety videos, which free crew members from performing a live safety demonstration on a flight. Babb said Delta considered different styles of videos, including a popular animated safety video by Virgin Atlantic, but in the end opted for a version with a Delta employee speaking directly to the audience.
Deborah Cohn, associate professor of marketing at Touro College in New York, said Delta's video may have more staying power with passengers than regular airline safety videos but she thinks the video's "edgy" music, could make passengers jittery.
"It really captures your attention — the woman in the video is beautiful and you can't take your eyes off her," she said.
David Stempler, president of the passenger advocacy group Air Travelers Association, said the new safety video provides a "very consistent message for the passenger."
"Anything to make it more lively is going to get passengers' attention," Stempler said. "Although it's a very serious subject, they handle it in a very good way."
The video, made on a Boeing 757, was completed in mid-January after two 16-hour workdays in Atlanta.
Employees last fall auditioned for the role. The airline whittled down a list of 82 flight attendants and selected 10, including Lee. Four appeared as flight attendants in the video and the other six appeared as "passengers." The lead flight attendant wasn't selected until immediately before the filming.
Lee, a 10-1/2 year employee who now trains other flight attendants at the airline's Atlanta headquarters, was selected in part because she already was comfortable being in front of other people, Babb said.
But can "Deltalina" (who's single, by the way) come to terms with her new fame?
"I was on vacation ... and when we landed in Munich, one of the passengers comments, 'Aren't you that girl in the safety video?"' Lee said. "It's been kind of interesting. With students I'm teaching, I feel like a rock star. I wanted to do this since the first day I became a flight attendant. Ten and a half years later, I finally made it."