The Ticket

Airline Magazines Take Advertising to New Heights 
By Kristin Zimmer  


I was flying from New York to North Carolina with nothing to entertain me but a political science book for class. Like any good homework assignment, the political strategies of the 1968 election can only be riveting for so long. After about ten minutes I was bored, so I pulled U.S. Airways’s inflight magazine, Attaché, out of the pocket in front of me. I started to read the cover story, "The Lovely Truth About Lowly Weeds,"expecting that it would entertain me for at most another 10 minutes.

Instead, I became engrossed in the world of weeds. Then I read "Political Asylum," about the political history of a hamburger shack; "To a Tee," about how to buy the perfect T-shirt; "How to Visit an Art Museum," about how to get the most out of a museum; and "A River Runs Through It," about 20th Century architecture and a couple whose house was built over a waterfall by Frank Lloyd Wright. Each article was so well written and descriptive that Attaché kept my attention for the rest of the flight.

Recently, however, when I pulled out my copy of Attaché and flipped through it, I noticed something else. Near each article there was a little red box called "The Ticket." In "A River Runs Through It," the box says, "The Ticket: Fallingwater is open for tours from mid-March through November. For more info, call 724/329-8501 or e-mail" In "Political Asylum" the box says: "The Ticket: Harry’s Place is located at 104 Broadway St., Colchester, CT. Call 860/537-2410 for directions and hours."

This wasn’t a magazine. It was a magazine-sized advertisement. I read the articles again to make sure they were as good as I remembered. Once again, the authors’ vivid language drew me in. William Sertl, author of "A River Runs Through It," compares Frank Lloyd Wright’s house to a beautiful ship: "Walking outside onto the living room balcony broke the spell in the same way that stepping onto the deck of a ship suddenly wakes you to the power of the sea." It was graceful. It was striking. And I wondered, was it wrong?

Is it wrong for an airline magazine, which gets its sole revenue from advertisers, to publish literature aimed at selling something? Attaché’s contributors include famous book authors and reporters from well-respected publications such as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Esquire, Ladies Home Journal, and others. They are part of a tight network of about 120 writers whom Attaché’s editors use. According to editors from the magazines published for Delta, TWA, US Airways and United Airlines, a typical article is purchased for about $1 per word, and ranges anywhere between 320 and 3,000 words. The magazines are aimed at an affluent group of travelers (mostly college students and business people), but the readership is very diverse. Because of this, inflight magazines are really the "last bastion of general interest magazines," according to Lance Elko, editor of Attaché.

Bob Sullivan, a contributor to Attaché, worked for Life magazine for seven years and now works for Time. He believes all three should be considered general interest magazines and said he approaches his work for all of them with the same seriousness and ambition.

Daniel Gross, a columnist for Attaché, sees airline magazines as lifestyle magazines. What makes them different from the "garden variety," he said, is that they have a specific purpose. While providing some interesting reading material, they inform readers about the airline and its destinations.

As Michael Buller of Delta’s Sky said, "We don’t want to promote destinations that our readers can’t get to on our planes."

Of course not.

The biggest concern for inflight magazines is recruiting advertisers. A one-time, full-page, full-color advertisement sells for anywhere between $15,000 and $36,000. In many cases the airlines reach 1 million to 2 million readers with many fewer issues because the magazines stay on the plane. By not allowing passengers to take Ambassadors off the plane, TWA reaches about 700,000 people with only 180,000 copies, says Cindy Ray, a TWA representative. Even airlines such as U.S. Airways, which offers complimentary copies of Attaché to its passengers, only lose about 16 percent of their
magazines. Because of this, they make huge profits and attract big advertisers.
Elko says that "The Ticket" boxes in Attaché’s articles visually break up the text while adding information that wouldn’t fit into the pieces.
Bob Sullivan, the contributor from Time, said he believes Elko’s boxes simply inform readers.
"I don’t think they are a type of advertising. I think they are facilitators," said Sullivan. His article in this year’s March issue, entitled "In Saint Brendan’s Wake," has a ticket box for Tim Severin’s book, The Brendan Voyage. The book explores newfound evidence that Irish monks may have discovered America before the Vikings. "I don’t see that as an ad for Tim Severin’s book," said Sullivan. "But if someone is really interested in St. Brendan they can find out more [by reading the book]."
In any case, the media are swimming in advertisements. Many TV news organizations endorse products and celebrities all the time.
But I guess Sullivan’s mother never taught him that just because everyone else jumps off a bridge, he doesn’t have to dive in after them.


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