In-flight Magazines – An Opportunity Being Wasted And How Airlines Can Get More Creative!

I am not a seasoned traveller. Well atleast not yet. Yet I have been on a handful of flights over the last couple of years.And guess what? I have been bored on many of those.


Most airlines have some sort of a medium by which they plan to keep their customers connected. All flights have the customary drinks/beverages and some cookies/peanuts. Some big airlines, especially the international ones as well as our very own flamboyant Kingfisher, have amazing in-flight entertainment gadgets. However I shall not be talking about them in this post.

I shall talk about the in-flight magzines. flight-2

Recently our plane was stuck on the run-way for a good 2 hours as the weather was inclement. Neither could the plane take off, nor could it go back to the airport gate. And most of us were bored and stuck in our seats. Some folks switched on their ipods, some opened their laptops.And I,like most others, checked for the in-flight magazines that are stacked up on each seat.

You know what! No-one likes these in-flight magazines.They are a pain to read.

Why are they not popular?

  • Stale content: Who really wants to read about some obscure holiday plans that the vice-president of the airline recommends to all the readers. Yes, this is an in-flight magazine, and is predominantly a manifesto of the airline. But do people really care? Would they attract more customers if you bore them to infinity while talking all heavens about their airline? Well they already know that. Thats why they decide to fly your airline [well ideally atleast!]
  • They are not updated: Well this is debatable. but most of the times i have only found issues of the magazine that are hardly the latest.
  • Compelled to read: Passengers have no choice. They place their baggage in the cabin. Then sit. Look at the windows. Greet the passenger next to them. Make a couple of phone calls. Switch off the phone. And then…then what do they do? they dont know. So they stare at the magazines stacked behind a couple of safety instructions and the like, and pick them up. They dont enjoy reading them. Well occasionaly perhaps they might.
  • Sales tool: Airline companies use the in-flight magazines more as a sales tool. They talk of the various options the airline has and the rewarding flying experience, and round it off with tonnes of advertisements. As a passenger, i dont care once i have boarded my flight. I need to know about these things before i board my flight. Presumably, I already know. That is why i am in the plane! The airline companies dont seem to get this…well atleast their in-flight magazines seem to indicate.

How this is hurting the airlines?

Hurting is a strong word. But i am tending to think that in-flight magazines are not adding any value to an airline’s customer service.

  • They are being relegated to something inconsequential.
  • It is a candid waste of paper and printing resources.
  • More importantly they are putting off the customer. Well many of them dont care. They have enough to think about during the flight, or work on on their laptops, or just sleep. However at some level or the other, they are being affected by the quality of the in-flight magazines. For most, it is not adding to good customer service. For some like me, it is putting them off!
  • They are just adding to the weight of the plane [ok..dont mind this one! :-)]

How can airlines make the in-flight magazines better?

Aah..this is the interesting part.
Well first of all i assume that airlines dont want to eliminate these altogether. I think they are required for 2 reasons:

  1. The in-flight magazines also contain important information such as maps of the destination airport, and other logistical details, as well as information that may help travellers plan their future trips. Also some of them carry instructions for emergency landing etc (though most airlines have a separate booklet for this)
  2. People still love to have a good read in the plane. And not everyone owns a Kindle as yet!

That said airlines can certainly improve and make their in-flight magazines a lot better. Here are some suggestions

  • News: People love to splurge on the latest news. The magazines must carry some articles or posts about the news happening around us. Perhaps airlines can enter into partnerships with existing magazine or newspaper companies to provide this content. People love to read about celebrity gossips, sports, latest in politics.
  • Weekly editions: I think the magazines should change everyweek or atleast every fortnight. Again this will have cost structures to be justified if it is decided to refresh the magazines every week. Well every fortnight? Am not sure! Its arguable.
  • Relevance: Less posts about what the vice-president of the airline did for his last holiday. I mean, who cares about that!!!
  • Engage the passenger: Most games have a section on sudoku, or crossword or other games. However when i pick up the magazine, i often find someone who has solved half the puzzle or the sudoku. I sometimes get the kick to continue and solve it. But hey..whats my reward? Airlines should have an engagement model: They could do something like ask the passenger to cut the piece of paper carrying the solution and drop it in a box at the front of the airline before the leave the plane, and promise them a reward if their answer is correct. Or perhaps promise them more flyer miles if they are correct. Or have a monthlong contest where passengers can continue one puzzle after another during different flights, and they win a free flight ticket if they get the answers correct (the catch..they should fly the same airline….aint it good marketing??).  This way, not only are the passengers are incentivized for their journey and make them feel occupied and good during the journey, but they will also be more keen to know if they won! So they will come back….yeah they might come just check the airline website to check if they won, or they may come back to fly again.Either way, it works. This Engagement model also provides the airlines a good measure of their customer service.
  • Let the passengers contribute: Nothing motivates a passenger more than an in-flight magazine carrying an article posted by the passenger. Passengers(the blog maniacs like straters!) are encouraged to contribute to say an “airline blog” when they buy a flight ticket. And the airline can pick a good post and put it on their in-flight magazine. While it is rare that the same passenger might read the magazine, it works because if the passenger contributed a post, it means that he/she was engaged in someway with airline. Ofcourse, fellow passengers often like to hear about someone like them. Think of it as an airline version of Readers Digest 🙂
  • Profile a Passenger: Passengers can be asked to send in pictures of their holiday or their experiences. These would get featured on the in-flight magazines. If the airlines get their logistics, printing schedule and content management in perfect synchronization, it might even be as fascinating as having “Just-in Time in-flight magazines”. These means, you finished a nice holiday in Bangkok today, and decided to fly back to Mumbai day after. You book your tickets today, and then you submit your holiday pictures tonight. The airline publishes them tomorrow. And you see it on your in-flight magazine the next day you board the flight! Nothing like your 30 seconds of fame when your co-passenger spots similarities between you and your picture in the magazine!
  • Reality Show: Airlines can create a reality show. Something like interested readers can participate in a “Become an airhostess” contest or a “Become a steward contest” or “Suggest a menu item for us” contest…..or….(now this is crazy 🙂 ) “Become our pilot” contest!

Lets have more suggestions in the comments section. Come on..arent we bored of those grizzly old in-flight magazines.


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11 thoughts on “In-flight Magazines – An Opportunity Being Wasted And How Airlines Can Get More Creative!

  1. An exception: One magazine I can recall is JetWings – that magazine , atleast in the Indian context presents some of the best content I have read aboard an aircraft. However, I don’t think its available on JetLite – I havent been on a flight for 3-4 months now, sodont have latest info…. Infact, JetLite is doing something different – they provide inflight shopping options for the passengers .

    Wonder what the top rated airlines of the world like Singapore Airlines or Emirates do – would someone share their experiences?

  2. I think your observation has slightly missed the point. The core business of an airline is flying not entertainment. The on-flight multimedia entertainment is extra luxury that they provide in the name of ‘better service’.
    The entertainment part is supplemented with three ways: audio, video, reading. And for this stuff airline doesn’t start an in-house entertainment business. Audio consists of top albums on the charts, video consists of few top movies of box-office and reading includes newspapers, magazines etc.
    Apart from that airlines give additional magazine(s) which contains product advertisement, entertainment content list and gyaan about the airline. The airline business has sought more revenue from the magazines by having advertisement in magazines and corresponding product in in-flight, duty-free shop.
    The point is they don’t seek entertainment/engagement of passengers from additional magazines. Additional magazines are for the sake of marketing only and one should discuss how can they be more effective in marketing. If airline does not provide good core magazines for entertainment, it means it lacks in services.
    Additionally, the best thing for airline-crew is that you sleep for most of the time. They won’t want unnecessary stuff that does not have direct business benefit and is a headache to cabin-crew.

  3. Kaushik says:

    Shantan, the ailines don’t have the funds to provide a decent breakfast, and you expect them to give you a playboy-meets- wisden almanac?

    Too much expectations man. Just wish that your ticket is still <10k, and get to sleep man. Most of the Airlines are going kaput, and in-flight magazines is the least on their list of priorities now dude

  4. Hi Shantan,

    I read your article on inflight magazines with great interest and have to say I agreed with a lot you had to say. Unfortunately there are a lot of inflight magazines that are tired and still being published with the old editorial formula outlined in your article. At Pace Communications we understand that the advent of technology and digital media has had great impact on the media consumption habits of consumers today, and that publishers have to continually update their magazines in order to remain relevant to their readers evolving interests and tastes.

    As you might be aware, Pace Communications publishes the inflight magazine for US Airways (US Airways Magazine) and Southwest Airlines (Southwest Spirit Magazine). After spending over months doing extensive research on what our readers expect in a “perfect” magazine, we re-launched US Airways Magazine in March 2009. In some respects we believe we are “re-inventing” the US Airways Magazine for the frequent traveler in mind.

    Our ground-breaking magazine directly connects our readers with today’s “trend influencers” – the web bloggers, online journalists and content creators who keep our readers and consumers on top of the latest trends and developments on topics of interest to them. One perfect example of this is the partnership with The Harvard Business Review where we incorporate content from their website,

    We are doing the same with Southwest Spirit Magazine. Beginning with the July 2009 issue we updated and incorporated new editorial features to the magazine in order to remain relevant to our most important customer – our reader.

    Next time you are traveling on US Airways or Southwest, I encourage you to pick up the inflight magazine and take a look at what we’re creating. I think you’ll be very impressed with the quality and the design of the magazines as well as its relevance to a very discerning audience.

  5. Shantan says:

    @ Rik Gates – Thankyou very much for sharing thoughts about the new initiatives being taken by your company in improving the in-flight magazines on US airlines.

    I surely will check out US Airways or Southwest the next time. I actually did fly Southwest recently but the in-flight magazine did not catch the eye. That said, i shall look forward to the new magazines.

    We also hope that you found some new ideas for improving in-flight magazines in this post. Do keep reading this blog. We are a bunch of people with some really nice ideas.

  6. Most international flights do have a decent in-flight purchase booklet which is decent. Plus they also have a decent travel guide to encourage people to travel more (specially Virgin and Jet have that for sure). But definitely a good point, it is an important space which can be used. Maybe the airlines can also cash in on more advertisements and make it sort of a profitable magazine for themselves.

  7. K. Wally says:

    Hey, have you checked out Windows & Aisles, the inflight magazine of Paramount Airways? It’s better than Jet Wings, extremely trendy design and AWESOME features. I always steal a copy when onboard!! As far as inflight mags go, this one is the best in my opinion.

  8. jenny says:

    I am jenny from miPA. we provide virtual personal assistant services to our clients. We want to publish our company ad in your inflight magazine Please provide us details regarding advertising rates and the contact no. of the concerned person to whom we can contact to publish our ad in your magazine.

  9. ALex says:

    To Companies that would like to Advertise for a Great Rate with an InFlight Magazine please contact me. I represent “Latitudes”–American Eagle Airlines Inflight Magazine. Potentially reach 6million high end travelers per month. I can be reached at: 213-926-3539. Thanks–Alex Garmendia

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