Why would Air France take this decision?

By 02/05/2019Blog

Why would Air France take this decision?

A few weeks ago, I flew from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro with Air France.

To announce the safety precautions for the flight, they showed a video – a true work of art in my opinion. It was the only safety video that I’ve ever watched with real interest.

It was dynamic and aesthetically perfect, exactly the glamorous French image that Air France wants to give. It contained the French flag, a cute French accent and wonderful choreography – not a single detail was missing.

Air France safety video

Air France safety video, a true work of art

However, the really clever part was that it alternated between English and French in a way that didn’t bore you when you were watching it. It really did amaze me.

I was surprised and impressed the first time I watched it last year. Now, having watched it three times, I still love it.

Clearly, the team behind it put a lot of care into achieving an amazing video.

However, there was another thing that didn’t impress me – quite the opposite.

When I took a look at the controls of the entertainment system, the Spanish translation didn’t make any sense. Know what “llamado para abordar” means?

Entertainment system Air France

Well, I don’t either and I am a Spanish speaker – it is absolute nonsense!

Whatever it was supposed to mean, it was a relief to see that you could cancel it, as you also had a nonsensical “cancelar para abordar”, argh!

I actually had to go to the English version to see what the button was for (calling a crew member incidentally).

Poor translation is not very good for Air France’s image, so let’s hope nothing worse ever happens, like a Spanish speaker not being able to warn the crew quickly about a severe allergy or another medical problem. This is unlikely, I know, but not impossible.

I always wonder how much money Air France spent on their safety video. I also wonder how much more money it would have cost to translate their system interface properly. Little in comparison, I assume.

I’m curious to know why companies make these decisions. It could be lack of knowledge of the target language, with Air France marketing personnel completely unaware of the issue. It could also be the result of a long subcontracting chain. Maybe they assume that translation is a straightforward matter. I would be interested in finding out which part of the process failed in a company that clearly cares about image.

(Note: translating interfaces is not easy, see here why)

What do you think the reasons may be? Does your company also make silly mistakes having spent huge amounts of money on marketing? Let me know in the comments!



My name is Diana Llorente. I’m a Physicist and a certified technical translator into Spanish. I’ve spent more than 15 years working as an engineer, QA and Operations manager in technical industries and I now translate within the same sector, drawing on my years of hands-on experience. This helps me understand the texts, their background and my clients better. I’m a member of APTIC in Spain and of the Chartered Institute of Linguists in the UK.

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