The first-ever in-flight magazine has now become the latest one to fold. American Airlines debuted its seatback publication back in 1966, establishing a precedent that would soon be followed by all the other U.S.-based passenger airlines as well as many foreign carriers.
The American Way (later shortened to American Way) started out as a slender booklet of fewer than 25 pages that focused on educational and safety information about American Airlines, its equipment and staff. Initially an annual publication, American Way soon became a monthly magazine.
Its early success was due to the captive audience that were airline passengers “back in the day.” Unless you brought your own book or periodicals on board, the in-flight magazine was a welcome way to pass the time in lieu of conversing with your seatmates or simply dozing.
As all other American passenger carriers launched their own in-flight magazines, many of them grew to more than 100 pages in length. In their heyday, it’s very likely that the readership levels of these publications outstripped those of many consumer magazine titles.
But as with so much else that’s happened in publishing, they were destined to become a casualty of changing consumer behaviors. Interest in leafing through in-flight magazines dropped off when travelers started uploading books, movies and TV shows onto their electronic devices – or tapping into the airlines’ own electronic entertainment options. And when that happened, advertiser interest – the lifeblood of any commercial publication – fell off as well.
American Way’s last issue is this month. Proud to the last, its cover story is about “America’s hippest LGBTQ neighborhoods.” But after June, the magazine will join the in-flight publications that were dropped by Delta and Southwest Airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic and won’t be returning.
To be sure, several of them continue to hang on. United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine is due back on planes in July, and Virgin Atlantic has plans to relaunch its magazine Vera in September. But these would seem to be in the minority as the other in-flight magazines have disappeared into the ether.
Will they be missed? Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt doesn’t seem to think so, stating recently to USA Today:
“I don’t think frequent travelers – or infrequent travelers – will notice or really care to any great degree if the magazine[s] disappear. Certainly, nobody ever chose an airline because of the in-flight magazine.”
I’m in agreement with Mr. Harteveldt on this. But how about you? Will you be missing in-flight magazines at all?
3 thoughts on “In-flight magazines disappear into thin air.”
Nobody sits on a park bench flipping pages of a book or magazine anymore, so the disappearance of inflight magazines seems inevitable.
What doesn’t change is the boredom of being stuck staring at the seatback in front of you (which seems to keep getting closer with every decade) as you squirm in discomfort.
The glossy inflight magazine represents a last tiny suggestion — long gone in most people’s minds — that flying could be glamorous, offering restaurant-level service and attractive amenities. But flying has become a bus ride — with or without pretzels.
I started my career in magazines and worked for 8 years for Pace Communications, at the time a leader in content marketing and in-flight publishing. They produced the in-flight magazines for United, Delta, USA Air, and even Air Force One. There were talented people working on those publications, working hard to meet tight deadlines and hopefully produce something of interest to travelers.
Yet even then we knew the magazine was a vehicle for the program guide and the terminal maps. No need for program guides anymore now that everything is digital and the terminal map can be printed one-time for those seat pockets.
I love magazines — the kind you hold in your hand and can take with you to the beach or on a plane. I still buy one at the newsstand every time I fly. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that a medium I love is dying.
Here in Thailand, on Thai Airways International, it isn’t just the inflight magazine Sawasdee (after the all-purpose word meaning Hello, Goodbye, Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Good Evening in the Thai language) that’s disappeared; the whole airline has gone under.
Mismanaged badly under state ownership, yet always punctual and rated highly by passengers (including me) for its modern fleet and inflight service, Thai Airways couldn’t possibly weather the COVID-19 pandemic. From its main hub in Bangkok, the vast majority of Thai Airways flights served international destinations on five continents, making Bangkok the world’s most frequently-visited city (ahead of Paris) in 2019.
The Thai border closed over a year ago (March 30, 2020), and anyone entering the country still must undergo a mandatory state-run 14-day quarantine. Thai Airways essentially had to shut down. It sought bankruptcy protection last year, and its creditors approved a rehabilitation program just last month.
Thai Airways management says the airline will be back in business, but no one really knows when; most likely, the airline will operate as a mere shadow of its former self. It will be interesting to see how the competitive landscape evolves after international travel starts to recover.