Does anyone read in-flight magazines?

Do you read in-flight magazines? You know the ones I'm talking about, right? They're shoved into  an airplane's seat back right alongside the evacuation instructions and vomit bag.

Since I've been traveling relentlessly of late, I've decided to pass my time during the endless delays to observe my fellow passengers to see if any actually picked up and read the magazines. No one did. Not a soul. Not the morbidly obese man on my left or the pajama-clad, trailer park denizen on my right. And, I'm positive the toddler sitting directly behind me and repeatedly kicking my seatback wasn't flipping through the articles eitArticle-1200719-005E374800000258-743_468x330her.

This wouldn't matter if airlines weren't relentlessly cutting costs and adding a la carte pricing faster than you can say sleeping air traffic controllers. 

Just imagine how much money every airline could save (and pass along to passengers) if they did away with in-flight magazines. The publications serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever except to show me diagrams of various airports and maps of the world. (So, that's where Ceylon is, eh?)

Back in the mid-13th century when I plied my PR trade as an account executive, securing a placement in an in-flight magazine was a HUGE deal. In fact, most clients considered it an A-level hit, right alongside a Times article or GMA appearance. I guess that's because, in the days before iPads, iPods and laptops became ubiquitous, airline passengers actually read the damn magazines. Nowadays, though, I can't think of a single new business proposal or year-long plan that so much as even mentions gaining publicity in an in-flight magazine.

So, why do they still exist? You'd think one of the more progressive airlines such as JetBlue or Southwest would have banned them years ago, announced the move as a further reflection of their eco-friendly ways and made a big splash about passing along the cost savings in a massive advertising campaign. Nah, that would be too obvious.

Sometimes the easiest solutions are the ones staring you right in the face. So, here's hoping some airline executive wakes up and cancels his in-flight magazine order at the same time he gives air traffic controllers a little more vacation time. The flying public would thank him for both.

9 thoughts on “Does anyone read in-flight magazines?

  1. Interesting, Tim. We must take different airlines because I don’t see a soul flipping through the publications. But, I’m glad they entertain you. And, as I said, I love exploring their world maps. Who knew one has to fly into Dar es Salaam in order to visit Zanzibar?

  2. Based on my travels of late, I have to respectfully disagree with the observations you’ve witnessed on recent flights. I always find people around me flipping through the in-flight mags and reading such heavy topics as “Top 5 U.S. destinations” and “Top 52 Restaurants.” I also enjoy learning about the aircraft I am flying, what movies I can watch and knowing where my connecting gate is located by taking a look at the diagrams. I don’t disagree with you that they should be equal to a Times or GMA placement, but I think they still have a role on planes. I’d like to see some real research/data on their readability other than just our two experiences though. Happy flying…

  3. Nice answer! and that in itself highlights the lack of foresight and research undertaken prior to making your assumptions public.
    Surely the numbers are the basis of your argument – Header: Does anyone read in-flight magazines? Based on those numbers, I can categorically state YES, they do!

  4. Thanks for the input, Steve. I don’t care about the numbers. No one reads the damn things. No one listens to those in-flight business conversations either.

  5. Being a PR guy, I’m sure you’ll appreciate independent data. MRI,Mendelsohn Affluent, Simmons etc. It may surprise you, but the inflight ranks in the same league as the major newsstand magazines. Average Reader Per Copy across the sector is approximately 6 people. When you consider print runs range between 330-650k depending on the airline, this put the readership into the millions, or approximately 33% of the passenger base. These numbers alone are significant enough to justify their existence.

  6. Oh, I’m quite sure the airlines charge enough in advertising to offset their cost of purchasing the magazines, Jepotts. But, that really isn’t the point. Why spend money for a product nobody uses? Instead, they should ditch the publications no one reads and pass along the savings to their passengers. Airlines do a miserable job of putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and experiencing the brand from the outside-in. If they did, in-flight magazines would be the first thing to go.”

  7. A comment from Coach Zanzal? Wow. My life is now complete. Re: your being stuck on the runway caveat, I always bring paperbacks with me. No way you’ll ever catch me leafing through an in-flight magazine except to determine the exact distance separating Guam from Wake Island. I’m a WWII buff and need to know these sorts of thing.

  8. Wait until you are stuck on the runway and can’t access that iPod until you are above 30,000 feet. Then that in-flight magazine will suddenly look very appealing…