Jan. 12, 2011— -- Ever hear of Kulula Air? It's a low-cost South African airline with a wicked sense of humor.
Just go to its "About Us" section on Kulula.com and instead of a boring list of top executives, you are directed to "Who's who in the zoo," complete with an array of "mug shots."
Then there are those distinctive markings on one of Kulula's aircraft, dubbed Flying 101: The exterior includes helpful printed phrases complete with pointing arrows to indicate "windows," "wing #1" and "loo" while over the cockpit you'll see the words "the big cheese." Now that's entertainment. But it's not the only airline having some fun.
Here are some of my favorites: Airlines that take safety seriously but not much else.
For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com
I'll call Spanair the Oprah Airline.
Case in point: At the end of the Spanish carrier's Christmas Eve flight from Barcelona to Las Palmas, the 190 passengers went to the baggage carousel only to find not their luggage but carefully wrapped presents with tags bearing all the fliers' names. The gifts were customized, too; teddy bears for toddlers, plus cameras, beauty products and apparel for adults. And yes, the passengers got their bags, too.
Cynics might see this as nothing more than a savvy marketing move, but I thought it was delightful. And savvy. People will remember Spanair maybe as the Santa Claus Carrier.
Another entertaining airline: Virgin America. Call it the Cartoon Carrier, and I refer to Virgin's amusing new animated safety demo. OK, the voice-over is pretty straightforward (except when the narrator intones "For the point-zero zero zero 1 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before …"), but the drawings are a hoot, showing passengers who are hipsters, nuns, even matador and his bull. All that's missing is a character with a fish head -- wait, they've got that too.
The point, of course, is to get people watching -- and they do. I know I did.
Next up: The Lip Synchers -- and this honor goes to another discounter, Philippines-based Cebu Pacific Airlines.
Earlier this year, its flight attendants deviated from their standard safety spiel by prancing and dancing to Katy Perry's "California Gurls" plus a little Lady Gaga as they donned life vests and more. Some decried it as sexist, while others said it certainly kept them awake during the briefing. An airline rep said, "Cebu Pacific has always been known as a fun airline, and we wanted to get the message across to our customers that flight safety doesn't have to be boring." Message received.
Of course, there are Lip Synching Airlines and then there's the Real Deal -- which is how I think of one particular Delta flight when first class passenger Kanye West decided to give a 30-minute long musical performance over the aircraft's PA system.
The November song fest on the Minneapolis to New York flight took place with Delta's blessing (and it should be noted that Kanye's rendition of a couple of his hits was self-edited to be "family friendly"). Fellow passengers were said to be delighted, and even more so when the Grammy winner did not exit the plane first as celebs are wont to do but stood in line with everyone else.
I'm not sure I can lump Delta in with other "entertaining airlines." After all, it was a one-shot deal (unless it decides to hire Mr. West for future in-flight concerts), and frankly, the legacy carriers are generally the stick-in-the-muds of airlines when it comes to loosening up. The upstarts -- the discounters -- do it so much better.
Which leads us to the airline I'll dub, the Comedian Carrier and yes, I am speaking of Southwest.
They have long been known for laugh-out-loud ads featuring flabby-bellied ground crews with letters on their stomachs spelling out signature catchphrases like "bags fly free," but the real action is in the cabin.
Maybe you've played along as Southwest flight attendants peered at your ID to judge the winner of the onboard "ugliest driver's license" contest, or maybe you've chuckled as they explained that there is a smoking section on the plane -- out on the wing. But my favorite line (and I know a lot of you have heard this one) occurs as a Southwest plane comes in for a landing; that's when the pilot playfully shouts, "Whoa big fella! WHOA!"
I do hope your next flight is a good one, meaning it's safe and on-time, too. I also hope it gives you something to at least smile about.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.