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Are you ready for a flying mall?

Airlines experiment with onboard shopping.

By Teresa Mears Nov 17, 2009 4:51PM

One of our favorite things to do on an airplane is read SkyMall magazine, which is really a catalog full of products you’ve never heard of but now you’ve seen them, you absolutely, really, truly need them.


We’ve never actually ordered anything, but the fantasy is fun.


Now American Airlines is hoping it can persuade customers to go beyond browsing and actually buy things on board, beyond sandwiches and drinks. The airline is calculating that it can make some money off a captive audience, The New York Times reports.


“Given where we find ourselves as an industry, financially it behooves us to identify every source of revenue we can identify,” John Tiliacos, American’s managing director of onboard products, told The Times.


AirTran and Spirit airlines already are offering some inflight shopping, with wireless Internet connections in flight. Other airlines are looking at selling things onboard, too. Some experts believe that offering onboard shopping will raise some needed revenue for airlines.

“Look at what’s going on in airports,” Michael Levy, a marketing professor at Babson College in Massachusetts, told The Times. “Anytime you have customers who are captive, who have nothing better to do, they’ll shop.”


So far, American is selling train tickets on flights to London and offering in-flight Internet access and items from SkyMall. SkyMall has partnered with a Canadian company, GuestLogix, to make inflight shopping technically possible. Discussions are under way on offering tickets to Broadway shows and tickets to Walt Disney World theme parks.


Flight attendants aren’t so sure they want to become salespeople, especially if their income will depend on commissions. “If airlines are encouraging flight attendants to participate in selling of products and services, it needs to be done when the flight attendant has completed safety and security activities onboard the flight,” said Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants. “It’s definitely a proceed with caution type of thing.”


Flight attendants have long sold duty-free goods on international flights. We never could quite figure out why anyone wanted to buy any of those items while flying, though we did once spring for some chocolate.


Do we want our airplanes turned into shopping malls? It might actually be quite convenient to pick up tickets for a show en route to your destination, arrange transportation to your hotel or even make a hotel reservation on board. But how will we get in a proper nap if flight attendants are hawking products?


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