What does the future hold for the inflight magazine?

by Emma Drew
People on plane reading the inflight magazine

Since the start of the pandemic, airlines have had to make many significant changes, from increasing cabin sanitation to adopting new technological innovations to make the process of check-in and security easier and faster in line with social distancing measures. However, there has been another subtle difference to the inflight experience, one that has perhaps been overlooked, which is the noticeable absence of the trusted inflight magazine. 

What will happen to the inflight magazine?

In the days before the pandemic, inflight magazines were read and handled by several passengers a day, harbouring thousands of germs. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, most airlines have made the decision to remove inflight magazines from the backs of seat pockets where the inflight magazines are stored, in an effort to avoid the spread and transmission of the virus. 

Inflight magazine stored in seat pocket holders

Inflight magazine stored in seat pocket holders

In addition, the tight turnaround between daily flights and limited time to clean the air cabins after each journey has also contributed to this decision, since it would be difficult for air staff to have to keep replacing the magazines and continuously clean the area around the pockets holders.  

Also, with all but essential air travel currently suspended, many airlines felt it was unnecessary to spend time and money continuing to publish inflight magazines and as a result decided to press pause on their printing issues. 

Woman reading inflight magazine

Woman reading inflight magazine

A popular product

Inflight magazines have been a popular addition to the passenger flight experience ever since their arrival in the 1960s. Not only do they provide a means of distraction to fight off boredom on a short flight but they are an essential tool for brands to advertise their luxury products to a wider audience. 

A recent poll from Forbes Magazine showed that 88% of passengers pickup and read the inflight magazines but only 5-10% read the digital version. Traditionally, passengers often affectionately fold down the corners of pages to remind them to search for an item that has caught their attention when visiting duty free. These stats show the popularity for inflight magazine and its effectiveness at achieving high levels of engagement amongst its readers and a profitable return on investment (ROI). If the inflight magazine were to return during the pandemic, how would it be presented differently? 

How will inflight magazines adapt during the pandemic? 

Airlines will need to look at innovative ways to deliver inflight content in the era of the COVID-19 crisis. One way they could do this could be to post the printed version of the inflight magazine to the passenger’s homes, giving them plenty of time to read it just before they fly and to familiarise themselves with some of the brands available for them to buy at duty free. A similar approach has been recently trialled by United Airlines and Air Canada, who reported their customers were delighted to receive a free copy of their usual inflight magazine. Qantas recently sent 40,000 projected copies out to its most frequent flyers as a way to engage with the audience and build brand loyalty and received a positive response by its customers. 

Woman Is Sitting By Window On A Plane With an inflight magazine

A woman is sitting by the window on a plane with a copy of an inflight magazine in hands.

Another alternative would be to send a digital version of the inflight magazine directly to the passenger’s own personal device to ensure they receive the content. This could be downloaded easily through an app which would also have analytics software in place to track and monitor which products in the magazine consumers interact with best and purchase most frequently. This data would give airlines and luxury brands richer insights in how to tailor their brand messages to connect with their audiences and best promote their products. However, the main challenge this poses is whether passengers will actually take the time to download the content, now that the option of placing the inflight magazine in front of them has been taken away. 

Close Up Of A Woman Using Her Phone On An Airplane Trip

Close up of a woman using her phone on an airplane trip

Switching the inflight magazine from print to a digital alternative does have many advantages. Not only would it be far more cost effective in regards to print production but it also has greener benefits for the environment in that it reduces paper waste consumption which would help airlines take a step closer to achieving their goals for greater sustainability.  A study conducted by The National Geographic highlighted the additional cost of aircraft fuel needed to carry the extra weight of inflight magazines which was estimated to be around $215,000 per month, or close to $2.6 million per year. However, one of the reasons airlines continue to produce inflight magazines is because of the revenue it generates in sales from the ads featured within the magazines. Publisher Ink Global, for United Airlines in 2019, claimed their magazine produced revenues within the region of $6 million.

Will the inflight magazine return?

Whether the inflight magazine returns in the near future remains unknown at this point but if it does, the decision will come down to the individual airliners to prioritise between sustainability or continue with the traditional print version that generates substantial revenue.

With lockdown restrictions likely to ease over the coming months, air travel looks set to increase again in the later half of this year. However, airliners have said they are expecting fewer passengers onboard due to stricter regulations and until confidence in travelling returns, will we ever see the return of the inflight magazine?

Woman reading inflight magazine

Woman reading inflight magazine 

Mark Tjhung, Forbes Magazine says, “The inflight mag is not dead” and that airlines have not completely turned away from the prospect of the bringing the print magazine back onboard in the near future. 

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that people love the inflight magazine and due to the recent overload of the use of digital devices, perhaps we will gladly welcome the return of the traditional inflight magazine so we can switch off and browse at leisure as we flick back and forth through the glossy pages and daydream once again.   

Michael Keating, CEO and founder of Ink Global, also remains optimistic about the future of inflight magazines, taking the view that the COVID-19 effect on the industry will prove temporary.

A luxury we’ve perhaps taken for granted, but one that will surely be missed. Inflight magazines may be gone today but they are certainly not forgotten.

What does the future hold for the inflight magazine? Do you think inflight magazines will take off again? Let us know in the comments section below.

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