Captive Consumers on Airlines

DSC05867I travel quite a bit. And I’m bitchy when I travel. I have a sense of entitlement, I admit. I’ve paid for a service and I expect that service.

I’ve been using USAirways quite a bit lately (out of Terminal 1 at LAX) and though many folks refer to them as Useless Air, I’ve had acceptable travel experiences for the most part.

Lately I’ve been annoyed though. The advertising is getting out of hand. Passengers are being sold out. Both times I took a red-eye last year (most recently for the holidays) they showed a video advertisement for their travel services. I get it, they want to promote themselves, but IT’S A RED EYE … you’re not showing a movie – besides that safety video while we’re on the ground KEEP THE DAMN THING OFF.

Of course the last straw has to be that they’ve sold the tray tables for advertising. Click on that link. You know how they sell passengers to advertisers?


The ad above was from Splenda and some sort of flavored chemical mess that you’re supposed to add to the lackluster coffee you still get for free on the plane.

I shouldn’t be surprised, there was an article about it in the NYTimes back in ’03. I can’t help but love this quote:

America West announced that it was offering “tray-table advertising, a new and innovative advertising medium” that “provides customers a novel opportunity to learn about the products and services offered by quality, forward-thinking advertisers.”

Oh, thank you! Thank you airlines for helping me to learn more about products and services! (If I wanted to do that, I could read the SkyMall catalog, thankyouverymuch.) What I want is better service. I want the seats I booked, I want to be able to redeem my miles. I want to get where I’m going not worse for the experience. I’m sure when they start allowing cell phone use on airplanes we’re going to get directed ads while flying.

(Have you seen any other ads on planes? I hear they also book ads for the overhead bins.)

13 thoughts on “Captive Consumers on Airlines”

  1. Yeah, I saw the tray ads recently. Would be a great place for weight loss products, since my guy was pressed up against it – but maybe that was because there was no leg room.

    Same flight, they were offering incentives to purchase from the SkyMall catalog, so long as I placed my order before we landed. I actually tried to buy something, but the flight attendant told me it had to be sent normal ground mail, not 2 day or overnight, and this was just before Christmas. Nice try, US Air.

  2. I went to a movie theater for the first time in three years (I have a 5 year old – we’ve been busy). I couldn’t believe the number of commercials they showed before the movie. After four I yelled out, “enough!” If I have to view the commercials, why not make the movie free, like Salon? Your flight, too?

  3. I peel the ads off of the tray tables and stuff them in the seat pocket. helps out the next guy.

    but what drove me nuts about useless air was the constant badgering to get a US Airways credit card. they even promised to mail it in for you if you gave it to their waitress in the sky! and 1500 extra bonus miles !!

  4. Would you be willing to pay more for the ticket in return for having no ads? If USAir charges $5 more for a ticket with no ads vs. United charging $5 less with ads, I guarantee United will sell more tickets. Would you pay an extra 25c for bus fare if there were no ads above the seats? And, if you would, what about the low-income consumer who can’t really afford the extra quarter?

    Ads are intrusive and a nuisance, but most people will put up with them for a lower price.

  5. Jumpcut – public transit is not run for a profit and the ads are there to supplement the system so that they can offer basic services to the widest number of people (I don’t really care for them there, but I wasn’t around when the trend started). Airlines are run for profit and lately have reduced the services offered because of their flawed business models.

    When I get on the bus I know how much my fellow passengers have paid (well, depending on whether they have a pass, tokens or pay cash). When I get on a plane passengers have no idea how much their fellow travelers have paid. (I’d love to see if a set model of fares would work, like they do at concert venues.)

    As Hoot pointed out, you do pay a premium at movie theaters to skip the commercials. It’s called Arclight and I think their model proves that people are willing to say they’re tired of being taken advantage of when in captivity.

    bwananastar – so that’s why the tray table on my red-eye to Pittsburgh was simply a gray sticky mess! I put down a napkin for my drink and couldn’t get it off!

    Hoot – I also do not go to the movies for the same reason. I understand commercials on TV are there to supplement what is otherwise free or at reduced costs (we accept that when we turn on the TV), but I paid to get into that theater to see that movie and I was told that it started at X time.

    Markland – a no calorie coffee flavoring agent qualifies as a diet aid right?

  6. I could have done without the eight minute flight attendant ads for the US Airways credit card on my recent flights. Also, my tray table (complete with broken latch) was sponsored by Garmin.

  7. Don’t most of the commercials air before the actual start time of the movie these days? I generally only see trailers after the movie start time. (Well, that and a commercial for Cingular/Best Buy that tells me to be quiet and an ad for gift cards/candy from the theatre chain.)

  8. Don’t most of the commercials air before the actual start time of the movie these days?

    Even if they do, w/o assigned seating, you increase your possibility of reduced sight lines by waiting it out. Hard on short people :-)

  9. you can peel those ads right off and stick them in the barf bag. it’s what i surreptitiouslyish did when one was inflicted on me.

    i’m normally careful not to waste stuff, but in this case, i like that it costs the airline a barf bag.

  10. cybele, are you really arguing that you’d prefer advertisements being left on because you got a dirty tray table one time? when i peeled off an ad, it didn’t leave residue — i used the tray table for the remainder of my flight. perhaps your problem instead pertained to a missing barf bag…?

    i have noticed that planes aren’t cleaned or re-stocked very well any more. they’ve really become greyhounds of the sky. mexican first class buses are nicer. seriously.

  11. Jami – no, I’m not advocating that anyone leave the ads if they feel like demonstrating their irrtation with them … I just didn’t connect that’s why my tray on my outgoing flight was so sticky until bwananastar mentioned his experience.

    It is sad how poorly the planes are taken care of at the gate. On my return flight my original seat had a bottle of soda on the floor and a bunch of fast food wrappers tucked into at least two of the pockets.

  12. i seen that they now have ads (i think it was in the Continental terminal at LAX) in the bottoms of the containers you put your crap in when going through security. you know those nasty grey Rubbermaid tubs? superlame….

  13. I think I’m one of the few who just isn’t bothered by any of it. I have yet to fly an airline with the ads on tray tables – but I wouldn’t really care. As it is, I think most US carriers are the last hold outs on free pretzles and soda. In Europe the bargain basement carriers charge for EVERYTHING from checked baggage to peanuts to water. Frankly, I prefer a few fake “perks” that I’m paying for anyway.

    As for the movies – since I’m shelling out so goddamm much anyway, I like the ads because it makes the whole experience longer and some are clever enough to ad to the zone-out, escapism reason we go to the theater to begin with.

    It’s not like I succomb to the promotions and run out screaming “need splenda coffee crap now!”

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