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
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
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.
Publisher Gruppo Zeta
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.
Publisher Frontpage AG and Airpage AG
Frequency 10 per year
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
Publisher John Brown Publishing
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.
Airline British Airways
Publisher Premier Magazines
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
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.