Farewell in-flight magazines, it's been nice reading you

Farewell in-flight magazines, it’s been nice reading you: A familiar much-loved part of the travelling experience could soon disappear as airlines try to show they’re squeaky-clean…

  • Many airlines have suspended or removed their in-flight magazines 
  • The modern in-flight magazine was first offered in 1952 by Pan Am 
  • Only one UK airline doesn’t offer a magazine in the seatback pocket – Ryanair

You’ve survived security and the brand new hassles of Covid-related checks. You settle into your seat and do what millions of passengers have done over the years: reach for the in-flight magazine.

Only it’s not there. A familiar — much-loved, even — part of the travelling experience could soon disappear from seat pockets.

Of all the surfaces you are likely to touch in an aircraft cabin, a magazine is the least likely to harbour any kind of virus. But airlines want to show they are squeaky-clean.

A familiar — much-loved, even — part of the travelling experience, the in-flight magazine, could soon disappear from seat pockets

Take Air Canada, which promises to ‘electrostatically’ spray cabin interiors, use hospital-grade disinfectant between flights — and remove in-flight magazines from seatback pockets.

Many other airline magazines have been suspended, as much for economic as hygiene reasons (no passengers, no readers). So, if it’s the end of an era, the era has been a long one.

Airlines have looked for ways to relieve their passengers’ boredom for as long as there has been commercial aviation.

Imperial Airways used to hand out novels for hops across the globe in the 1920s and 1930s.

Then, in 1952, a bright spark at Pan Am had an idea: why not do our own magazine? The modern in-flight magazine was born.

In 1973, the editor of humorous magazine Punch, William Davis, went to British European Airways (BEA) and said that he’d produce a magazine for the airline for free. It just had to share the advertising revenue.

BEA (now BA) liked the idea, but not his title. Times were tough and they thought ‘High Life’ was too frothy. On the contrary, said Davis, it’s at times like these that we need a magazine called High Life.

I had the job of taking over from him as editor. My newspaper pals were sceptical: who wants to read a free thing? But flying is a form of lockdown and, as we’ve all discovered, that gives you some precious time to read.

We were continually told that the in-flight mag was done for when airlines provided hundreds of films and TV channels, when we started using laptops, and when we got onboard wifi.

Throughout, the magazines carried on making huge sums of cash from the advertisers desperate to reach people with money and time on their hands.

‘Airlines are now using Covid-19 to give customers less,’ says a former airline marketing boss. ‘To remove something so basic as the magazine is the airline admitting that it’s squeezing more out of passengers for less.’

He’s right. The one UK airline that doesn’t offer a magazine in the seatback pocket is, you’ve guessed it, Ryanair.

It used to have one, and now just hands out a retail magazine — and the seatback pocket has gone, too. 

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