Another airline inflight magazine calls it quits — seatback pockets may remain empty
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with news about American Airlines shuttering its inflight magazine. The story was originally published on May 2, 2021.
Even as the United States begins its slow return to normal, the many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel continue to unfold. In May, we reported on the status of four of the top five U.S. airlines that had removed their inflight magazines from seatback pockets. Well, with American Airlines’ announcement that it’s shuttering American Way magazine, it’s five for five.
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Unlike some other inflight magazines, American Way never stopped publishing during the pandemic. Instead, spokesperson Leah Rubertino told TPG earlier in the year that the magazine was printed “with a new paper treatment process called Biomaster, which is an antimicrobial technology that helps prevent the growth of unwanted microbes.” For those who don’t want a magazine, they can find it online — though we’re not sure how long that archive will be kept alive.
This is bittersweet news for American since the magazine was certainly one of the longest-running inflight magazines in aviation history. But the airline now focuses more heavily on its lineup of inflight entertainment, which ranges from hundreds of movies and TV shows to educational content, including Rosetta Stone instructional videos that teach various languages. All of that content is free for passengers to stream onboard to their electronic devices.
American’s managing director of global brand marketing, Dana Lawrence, told Dawn Gilbertson of USA Today that “the move will play a ‘small role” in helping the environment, as it uses 2 million pounds of paper for the 4 million copies printed each year – a benefit also touted by other airlines.”
Delta Air Lines was actually the first to remove its inflight magazine, Sky, from its planes. At the time, an airline spokeswoman cited the need to “eliminate nonessential items and reduce touch points.”
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 was posted online. As a result of that decision, the entire staff of MSP Communications was laid off.
“At the early onset of the pandemic, we removed Sky magazine from our seatback pockets to eliminate nonessential items and reduce touchpoints,” said spokeswoman Maria Moraitakis. “Since then, we have found a small but significant reduction in carbon emissions through the removal of the print magazine from our flights and have made the decision to retire the publication. We continue to evaluate ways to create a more enjoyable and sustainable in-flight experience.”
The airline had already planned to retire Sky magazine from flights as part of its ongoing sustainability efforts, but it was accelerated when the pandemic hit.
Southwest currently has no plans to reintroduce a print product, said a spokesman. Instead, it’s working to increase its digital offerings. The March 2020 issue was the last one published.
At its peak, the magazine had 5.5 million readers and was “the most read in the nation,” according to publisher Pace Communications. “We currently have no plans to reintroduce a print product and have been working to increase our ever-changing digital offerings,” said a Southwest spokesman.
Alaska Airlines made the decision to stop publishing its Alaska Beyond magazine, which had a pre-pandemic circulation of 4 million. Instead, the carrier is now pointing passengers to its blog, which covers destinations, people, travel tips and the latest coronavirus information.
United Airlines’ popular Hemispheres magazines will be back onboard flights and in United Clubs starting June 2021, said spokeswoman Kisa Mugwanya. “Our upcoming May issue will be the last iteration of what we’ve affectionately called “Hemi at Home,” which was mailed to travelers, she added. The digital version of Hemispheres magazine will remain available for readers.
Michael Keating is the co-CEO of Ink Global, which publishes Hemispheres. “Airlines now realize that COVID-19 surface transmission is infinitesimal. The CDC updated its surface cleaning guidelines,” he said. Ink has also seen the return of other inflight magazines, with Virgin Atlantic resuming this summer and European carriers like Eurowings and Transavia already back in seatback pockets, he added.
“Magazines are a massively important part of the communication strategy for many airlines, especially when packaged with our wider digital offering,” he explained. “It’s important to remember that people prefer their content to come from established platforms, which is why brands pay millions of dollars to be in the orbit of trusted magazines and editorial websites. Luckily, most airlines own their own editorial channels and should fully recognize the value of branded content.”
Plus, Ink has always had digital products for its airline customers, such as Singapore Airlines, inspiring travel and engaging with consumers pre, during and post journey, said Keating. “The print and digital channels, of course work together and speak to the brand, but ultimately serve different objectives,” he said. “The digital content channels we create for airlines work alongside our new performance marketing platform Navigator, which targets passengers based on search and booking data.”
Some airlines have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to make long-term changes and everyone will have to embrace new ways of working, said Keating. “Ink has also used the past 12 months to launch new digital-first businesses like Navigator and expanding our reachtv network, taking over many of the former CNN Airport screens in major U.S. airports,” he said. “Having our own airport TV network and brand-new Miami studio is a huge development that allows us to reach millions of travelers per day. One can’t look at the print magazine in isolation, as the smart way forward is a multi-channel cross-platform approach.”
Featured photo by Milkovasa/Shutterstock
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