TRAVEL MEDIA: INFLIGHT MAGAZINES COME OF AGE - The 1973 launch of BA’s High Life gave passengers more to read on their flights than the duty-free offers. Today, most airline titles would not look out of place on the newsstand, Richard Cook says

The poet, Philip Larkin, wrote that sexual intercourse began in 1963. Yet the arena of inflight magazines did not feel the earth move until a whole decade later.

The poet, Philip Larkin, wrote that sexual intercourse began in

1963. Yet the arena of inflight magazines did not feel the earth move

until a whole decade later.

When British Airways’ High Life first came out in 1973 it gave

passengers more to look at during their flight than a description of the

duty-free wares on the trolley and a map showing them where they were


Bill Davis, the former Punch writer, who was responsible for launching

both High Life and Premier Magazines, the company that continues to

publish the magazine for the world’s favourite airline, successfully

introduced more lifestyle elements into the inflight market.

And even if these lifestyle elements seemed, with the benefit of

hindsight, to rely rather heavily on interviews with the British

character actor, Robert Morley, they also paved the way for radical

shifts in the content of inflight magazines today.

’What everyone in the industry is starting to realise is that inflight

magazine publishers are in competition with every single magazine that

passengers bring on board Virgin Atlantic planes and that we offer them

copies of Hot Air as an on-board courtesy service,’ Andrew Hirsch, the

managing director of John Brown Publishing, which produces Hot Air,


’We are not in competition with other inflight mags - you’re not going

to be offered an Air France magazine on a Virgin plane, for example. So

the airlines are starting to look at who their audience is, rather than

merely copying every other inflight magazine.’

And because airlines are also perceiving themselves to be media owners,

in charge of a whole range of entertainment and information services,

the magazines themselves have to keep moving.

Bridget McCarney, the international sales director of British Inflight

Media, a company which specialises in selling a range of airport and

aircraft-related media to advertisers, says: ’Just look at British

Airways. It has four magazines, eight TV channels, nine radio channels

and the screens in its Executive Club, its travel shops and the

magazines it distributes to its own staff.

’It’s a considerable media owner,’ she adds. ’All the major airlines are

media owners now, and they are starting to realise that if they can

offer well-produced, well-targeted products, they can create really

attractive packages for advertisers as well as obviously provide a

service to passengers.’

Certainly the development of on-board broadcast media is helping

convince the magazines to speed the process of change. Industry

predictions suggest two-thirds of all airline passengers - or more than

130 million passengers a month - will have access to some form of

on-board electronic entertainment within the next decade. At the moment

this figure is a little less than a quarter.

But the change may happen even more rapidly. The airline manufacturers

are already trying to develop inflight aerials that would allow live

transmissions in flight, a process that is starting to attract the

interest of multinational broadcasters such as Turner and Disney.

The response so far by the magazines has been to embrace a process both

of editorial enhancement and of a growing segmentation of the


Many of the major titles have had overhauls in the past 12 months, or

have changes in the pipeline. Premier, which had its contract with BA

renewed earlier this year, is putting the finishing touches to a major

overhaul of High Life, having brought in a new editor, Mark Jones, after

the changes had been agreed.

Now Premier is considering launching High Life on the newsstand, and not

just making it look like it belongs there. Next on Premier’s agenda is

Business Life, the magazine for business and first-class passengers

edited by Sandra Harris.

But it’s not just BA that is improving its product, explains Charles

Vine, the account director of Spafax, the airline media sales house

which represents airlines all over the world. ’Air France has come out

with a new magazine, and the KLM magazine, Holland Herald, has been

updated, as have several of the other magazines,’ he explains. ’What the

relaunches tend to have in common is a desire to create more of a

general-interest magazine and less of a title clearly identifiable as an

airline publication.’

Air France’s Le Magazine was launched in April and replaced both its

predecessor, Atlas, and a title called Parcour, which was the Air Europe

inflight title. The new title will have a circulation of 450,000 - about

the same circulation figure as the two it replaces put together, but its

new publisher, Editions Gallimard, is hoping the lavishly produced

glossy will perform better than its predecessors in research groups.

According to recent figures from the Inflight Marketing Bureau, which

supplies research for a collection of the major European airlines, Atlas

was read for an average of 26 minutes, a figure that compared poorly

with other airline magazines, most of which made it past the 30-minute


’I think it’s a legacy of our lengthy struggle to get taken seriously,

so as an industry we signed up for everything we could,’ the Premier

Magazines managing director, Craig Waller, says.

’There’s the PES, which has a universe of nearly six million people, the

IATS, which covers 2.25 million air travellers and the EMS, which has a

universe of 40 million.’

EMS published its first full two-year database at the end of last month.

It measured print readership of international and national print

publications as well as a comparative analysis of TV viewing habits and

Internet use. In its survey results, the only category to have improved

its net reach in 1996, compared with the first year of the results, was

inflight magazines.

Lufthansa’s Bordbuch magazine, which is produced by Gruner and Jahr,

topped the average readership list, ahead of High Life and Business


Bordbuch has the highest distribution figures of any of the European

inflight titles, but is only published six times a year.

BA prints more magazines in all, but has long been in the vanguard of

one trend that is growing in importance, that of segmenting the magazine

output into discrete target areas.

As well as its two main titles, BA publishes a monthly magazine,

Concorde, for passengers on the supersonic service, the quarterly, Dream

Journey for flights between London and Japan, and the network

Entertainment guide offered to First and Club World passengers. Air

France also offers a dedicated quarterly title, Bon Voyage, on flights

between Tokyo and Paris, as do both KLM and Iberia for their own Asia

routes. One innovation that hasn’t yet been copied by the others is Air

France Madame, a bi-monthly women’s magazine available in first and

business class and has a hefty print run of 240,000.

But innovations like this will become more common as the battle between

the inflight media develops. After all, the inflight magazine is now

starting to be taken seriously in august newsstand company such as Vogue

and the International Herald Tribune.

Now it has to win what may be the hardest battle of all - for the

traveller’s attention on a flight that is punctuated by more

sophisticated inflight broadcast entertainment than ever before.

Ronda Iberia

Airline Iberia

Publisher Gruppo Zeta

Frequency Monthly

Circulation 250,000

This was one of the very first inflight titles, dating from the days

when information was considered more important than entertainment.

Its first issue was published 26 years ago, although Gruppo Zeta didn’t

it take over until six years later.

It’s now edited by Luis Diaz Guell who established his journalistic

credentials working for well-known and respected Spanish news and

business magazines. ’We include special reports on every country we fly

to, but we also provide readers with information on Spanish culture and

geography,’ the international ad manager, Leonor Arias, says.

That means in-depth profiles with the likes of Placido Domingo and Julio


According to research by the Inflight Marketing Bureau, Ronda is read

for an average of 32 minutes, putting it on a par with Lufthansa’s

Bordbuch magazine, produced by Gruner and Jahr and behind only BA’s

Business Life and Alitalia’s Ulisse 2000. Ronda also publishes a

bi-ennial Japanese issue which has a circulation of 80,000.

Its editorial is aimed at the Japanese market.

Swissair Gazette

Airline Swissair

Publisher Frontpage AG and Airpage AG

Frequency 10 per year

Circulation 300,000

It’s hard to believe this lavish glossy started life as a

black-and-white newspaper 40 years ago.

The Airpage director, Peter Furrer, is also the president of the

Inflight Marketing Bureau.

’Each issue deals with a specific theme and we like to attract

internationally renowned authors, photographers and journalists from all

over the world to help fit in with that theme,’ he explains.

The magazine can also claim the highest proportion of business readers

of any of the mainstream inflight magazines.

Because it is for a Swiss airline, the Gazette is published in four

languages, with features in English as well as Italian, German and


Hot Air

Airline Virgin

Publisher John Brown Publishing

Frequency Quarterly

Circulation 200,000

Since its launch in 1984, the 96-page A4 glossy has continued to

redefine the look and feel of the whole sector.

The magazine has been edited for the past five years by Alex Finer, the

former launch editor of British Esquire, while its look was created by

the design team that was responsible for the 80s style magazine,


Virgin offers the same magazine - which is aimed at a core market of

’thirtysomethings’ - in all classes.

The inflight listings are stripped out in its own titles, Odyssey and

Arcadia, which give full information about the 32 or 36 channels of

entertainment available on board.

’There are no duty-free ads in the mag and that’s because we are trying

to give it a real consumer magazine flavour,’ the John Brown managing

director, Andrew Hirsch, explains.

Certainly, the star interviews this year have included ones with

celebrities that would not have looked out of place among any of the

newsstand men’s magazines, such as the actor, George Clooney of ER fame,

and the actress, Drew Barrymore.

High Life

Airline British Airways

Publisher Premier Magazines

Frequency Monthly

Circulation 285,000

Not the oldest of the titles, nor the one with the biggest circulation,

but undeniably the first inflight magazine designed to be something that

passengers would want to read. The former Punch writer, Bill Davis, was

the first to realise the importance of a quality editorial package, and

the magazine he helped found celebrates its 25th anniversary next


High Life is now edited by Mark Jones, the former associate editor

(features) at London’s Evening Standard, and is still published by

Premier Magazines. The title has been relaunched this year ’to help

create a more consumer magazine feel’, according to Premier, which is

even now exploring the possibility of putting the magazine on to

newsstands. The magazine has the second-highest average readership

figures of any of the inflight titles, according to the latest EMS

readership survey. Business Life, the magazine published for business

and first-class passengers by Premier, is due to have its own relaunch

later this year.

Air France Magazine

Airline Air France

Publisher Editions Gallimard

Frequency Monthly

Circulation 400,000

The former Atlas title has just completed a major overhaul which has

created the most stylish magazine in the skies.

One example of this stylishness is the commissioning of a work of art by

a French artist for every cover.

For the inside, Air France Magazine has come up with an idea that is

likely to be copied throughout the industry - pull out and keep country


’It’s a great example of the way in which the inflight magazines are

reinventing themselves as titles with real consumer values,’ Charles

Vine, the account director at the inflight media sales house, Spafax,


And it’s not as if Atlas didn’t punch its weight before the


Although Air France is the fifth-largest in Europe in terms of passenger

numbers, Atlas was the second-largest in terms of circulation.