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Airline safety videos gone wild, funny and strange

Calling all frequent fliers: Have you been paying attention during those safety presentations? The airlines sure hope so. They've been turning the in-flight safety video into an art form.

Now that airlines have to compete with smartphones and tablets for passengers' attention during takeoff—thanks to an FAA ruling last year—some carriers have been hitting the refresh button.

United Airlines has revamped its in-flight safety video as a way to engage increasingly plugged-in and distracted passengers, United spokesman Charles Hobart told CNBC.com. The airline began rolling out its new in-flight safety video on Aug. 1 on most aircraft with seat-back monitors and television displays, Hobart said.

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"As more and more customers bring on personal electronic devices onto the aircraft we knew it was important for them to pay attention," Hobart said. "We had to find something new and interesting and different."

Delta Air Lines began experimenting with its in-flight safety videos in 2012 and has been adding tweaks ever since, including an all-80s throwback and holiday versions. The former has raked in more than 1.7 million views on Delta's YouTube channel.

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Virgin America went all out when it released a new in-flight safety video last October, a music video and dance number directed by "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" director Jon M. Chu. The video brought in more than 1.5 million online views in 24 hours, according to a Virgin America spokesman. The video now has more than 9 million views on YouTube.

An airline based in a faraway and small island nation—New Zealand—has proved tough competition for major players, at least when it comes to its in-flight safety videos.

Air New Zealand channeled author J.R.R. Tolkien for a Middle Earth-inspired safety video in 2012 that has nearly 11.8 million hits on YouTube. The airline has had a considerable head start compared with major players from the U.S. The carrier even enlisted Richard Simmons for its safety video in 2011.

—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen

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