50 years of inflight media
December 22, 2016

I was recently asked to speak at the New York Times travel show event and, whilst writing my presentation, I soon realised that the growing phenomenon that is printed inflight media would be celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

The vast amount of change this world has experienced in the past 50 years is, without a doubt, metamorphic. However, that said, it would seem that we humans do indeed stick to – and trust – what we already know and believe. Let’s just say that, in this instance, familiarity really does breed fondness.

When we board a plane we know where to stow our luggage, we know how to switch the air on and we know that there is going to be a good read in the seat pocket in front of us. But it wasn’t always like that. Although the first commercial flight was in 1914, it took a further 52 years – until 1966 – for there to be a branded inflight magazine to read.

In 1966 (the year the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl and England won the World Cup) the world population was “only” 3.4bn, the number of people jumping on a plane was a mere 300m a year, and the price of oil was a snip at $1.36 per barrel (as opposed to today’s 7.4bn global population, 800m airline passengers in the USA alone and oil at a low of $48 a barrel). But whilst passengers were criss-crossing the Earth on a Boeing 707 and wolfing down beef bourguignon on the way, they were also reading a new genre-breaking inflight magazine at 35,000ft. American Way magazine for American Airlines had its first edition in winter 1966 and this season we are celebrating this momentous occasion. Happy 50th, American Way.

These days we travel in unprecedented numbers, devour more media than ever before and consume advertising within the comforts of seat 12A on an Airbus A320 or Boeing 787. We have Wi-Fi, we travel in style eating spicy quinoa wraps, and we get inspired to travel to even further-flung destinations from award-winning journalists and magazines. We get our news through digital apps and we are all absorbed in our phones, trying to find out what’s what on social media. We listen to pop sensation Adele through our new Bluetooth headphones and we walk around playing Pokémon Go. But does any of this actually show real, deep and meaningful engagement?

I would like to suggest that the airline or railway passenger who has the means to travel and the time to relax on that journey is a more valuable consumer than an anonymous digital impression, click or simple “like”. We have real thinking, breathing and consuming human beings enjoying that ephemeral moment that we all know and love so much – reading a tangible, tactile publication. It doesn’t matter if it’s ’66 or 2016: touching something real and physical builds a stronger direct connection.

But what’s to happen to printed media in the future? What can we expect from the world in 2036?

Well, if things keep going as they are, we can estimate the world population will be 8.7bn and flying passengers will leap to around 7bn (currently 3.4bn). The price of oil will most likely go up to $90 and the most popular plane will be the luxurious V2 Hypersonic craft. We might even be eating lab grown mini-livestock pies. We may even have President Chelsea Clinton re-marrying King Harry. The L.A. Rams will win the Super Bowl and Nigeria the World Cup. Who knows…? BUT I bet you one thing: as long as passengers want to fly in a comfortable and familiar environment and we all have functioning arms and eyes, we will be given a printed magazine to read.

Printed travel media is that escape for every traveller. It is that positive dream and inspiration. It is that reassuringly familiar relaxing moment. So come advertise with us, and help become that storytelling dream of the future.

Read about the first ever issue published in the winter of 1966/67, 1975’s vision of future air travel, cover stars ranging from Sylvester Stallone to Homer Simpson and much more, all on our online version of The Big 50 American Way Magazine.

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