Airline inflight magazines are being pulled. Will they return after the pandemic?

Apr 3, 2020

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Four of the top five U.S. airlines have removed their inflight magazines from seatback pockets in the wake of plummeting traffic caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Air Lines has removed its Sky magazine from its planes, citing a new aircraft cleaning process. The magazine, published by MSP Communications, had a pre-coronavirus circulation of 5 million. The last printed issue was March 2020; the April 2020 issue is available online. Delta has not announced a decision about the return of the magazine, said spokeswoman Adrian Gee.

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But, in an ominous sign, several staff members at MSP Communications say they’ve been laid off in the wake of Delta’s decision.



The March 2020 issue of Delta Air Lines’ Sky magazine. (Photo courtesy of MSP Communications)

In addition to removing its magazines, Delta has slashed its capacity by 70%, shrunk its use of Concourses C, D and E at its Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) hub and is using ATL’s closed runway 10/28 to accommodate parked jets.

Southwest Airlines has also put Southwest: The Magazine on hold, according to a company spokesperson. The March 2020 was the last one published. Past issues of the magazine can be read online.

The march 2020 issue. (Photo courtesy of Pace Communications)
The March 2020 issue of Southwest: The Magazine. (Photo courtesy of Pace Communications)

At its peak, the magazine had 5.5 million readers, and was “the most read in the nation,” according to publisher Pace Communications. The airline is “working around the clock and will follow up with next steps regarding the Southwest: The Magazine soon,” said the company spokesperson.

Southwest has already cancelled more than 1,500 flights, including all international service. And it will move ahead with a previously announced 20% capacity reduction in mid-April.

The March 2020 edition of Alaska Beyond magazine. (Photo courtesy of Paradigm Communications Group)
The March 2020 edition of Alaska Beyond magazine. (Photo courtesy of Paradigm Communications Group)

Alaska Airlines is not publishing an April or May issue of its Alaska Beyond magazine. No decisions have been made beyond that, according to an email from the airline’s media relations office. The magazine, published by Paradigm Communications group, reaches an average of 4 million passengers.

The airline has slashed its schedule by 70% through May as it adjusts to plummeting demand in the wake of the pandemic. That cutback affects roughly 910 of its average of 1,300 daily flights in April and May and is likely to be extended into June and beyond.

Related reading: Around the world in 8 inflight magazines

Michael Keating is the CEO of Ink Global, which publishes American Airlines’ American Way magazine and United’s Hemispheres magazine. “The April edition of American Way was boarded as usual and American is 100% committed to all the titles that we produce (American Way, Nexos and Celebrated Living),” he said. “Whilst of course pagination and print runs will vary, we are planning future issues as normal. The same goes for Hemispheres, though we will be skipping the May issue as United passenger numbers will be down. We are currently working on the June issue of Hemispheres and beyond.”

Some of the airlines we work with have sadly grounded entire fleets or are running skeleton services, said Keating. “In those instances, we are skipping issues and planning major bounce-back editions to really champion and support not only our airlines but all the countries and tourism boards that they serve,” he said. “Other airlines have removed items from the seat back pocket, whilst doing daily deep cleans. To ease the process and for a temporary period only, we agreed to not publish, until this period passes.”

American Airlines publishes three inflight magazines, with a potential reach of 15 million passengers a month, according to Ink Global. All three are currently available inflight and “we don’t have any changes to announce now,” said spokeswoman Leah Rubertino.

Meanwhile, the carrier has cut its domestic schedule by 30% in April with deeper cuts coming in May. This is on top of a 75% cut to American’s international schedule that will leave it with just three long-haul routes through at least May.

The April 2020 issue of Hemispheres magazine. (Photo courtesy of Ink Global)

Finally, United Airlines has made “a number of interim adjustments” to focus on essential operational tasks, said spokeswoman Andrea Hiller. “One of those steps is to alleviate our crews from replenishing all materials from seatback pockets except safety information cards and motion sickness bags,” she said. “We remain committed to our award-winning inflight magazine, Hemispheres, and now customers can access a digital version for travel inspiration.” The magazine, published by Ink Global, reaches 160 million readers a year.

United cut capacity by more than 60% in April and is planning deeper cuts in May and June as its load factors — the percentages of occupied seats on its flights — have fallen into “the teens or single digits.” The airline is currently operating only six long-haul routes through at least May.

“Ink Global is communicating with its airline partners to ensure that we are responding to this fast-moving landscape,” said Keating.

“We’re not only flexing print runs to reflect active fleet sizes, but ensuring there are enough copies for higher replenishment due to the enhanced cleaning processes. American Way and Hemispheres magazines have been around for 50+ years. They are award winning and loved by passengers,” he said. “We’re increasing the awareness of online content, as well as producing digital-first content for consumption both on social and [other] channels. Just yesterday for example, United emailed out the April edition of Hemispheres.”

These magazines will remain, Keating predicted.

“These award-winning magazines will be around for many years to come, and if it hadn’t been for this devastating pandemic, Ink was on track to have our best ever year,” he said. “Now is the time for media organizations to support not only our airline partners, but all the destinations and tourism boards that they serve. We will celebrate the joy of travel and inspire millions of readers to book their next dream trip.”

Check out TPG’s complete list of the latest flight waivers and cancellations.

Featured photo by Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

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