Here at Monocle, we spend a lot of time talking about what might make the travel experience better. We put a lot of things on that list. There are the obvious ones – more legroom, nicer flight attendants, a triumphant return of peanuts – basics, really. But in the seemingly never-ending quest to squeeze the experience for all it is worth, airlines have now started surrounding you with adverts while onboard. To hell with passenger comfort and a good old-fashioned escape from everyday life while in the air.
Two days ago, on an airline that shall remain nameless, I crammed into a row and took my window seat. Shortly after the safety briefing the flight attendants activated the in-flight entertainment system. But before we could start perusing the lousy selection of movies and old TV shows, we were forced to watch numerous TV adverts piped through our personal screens and blaring on the public address system. I felt duped. I had paid to sit and watch advertisements. “This is outrageous,” I thought to myself.
Outrageous, but true. The absurdity of forcing me to watch adverts in a place that I’ve paid to be has long been a gripe of mine at cinemas. But on a flight? It makes perfect financial sense but what about the passenger?
A captive audience is all too tempting for marketing people. Other examples of this are becoming more and more common. Just last week European low-cost carrier Ryanair said it would begin selling advertising on the side of its planes. For years, many airlines of similar ilk have plastered billboards across seatbacks and overhead bins. This surprises nobody, as low-cost carriers have always been keen on ancillary revenue or income from things other than ticket sales. But as I sat in the seat of a US legacy carrier and was forced to watch loud TV adverts it struck me – nothing about air travel is sacred anymore.
I believe that said legacy carrier, which made $1.7bn dollars in ancillary revenue last year, needs to do a bit of soul searching. Again, what happened to the passenger in all of this? I am happy the carrier is making money but I can’t condone doing it at the expense of my experience.
So maybe this is the part where I make my case for something better. Maybe I say that the advent of legacy carrier advert traps is a good thing. There are a few other legacy carriers around and the airline that shies away from this may just be the victor. After all, next time I book, I may choose to fly with the airline that lets me enjoy my flight away from the trappings of paid adverts, billboard seatbacks and angry flight attendants. And, I may even pay more to avoid these things.
The bar is low, so I pray the only way to go is up.
Tristan McAllister is transport editor for Monocle.