Christmas Shopping From the SkyMall?

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Have you ever thought, "Gosh, if only I could enliven my daily shower experience by transforming my showerhead into a fountain of fun"?

Or perhaps you've exclaimed, "A lasagna pan that won't allow layers to slump and slide? That's for me!"

Or maybe there's a void in your life that only Bigfoot can fill.

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you've been perusing the SkyMall catalog -- and you're not alone. It's a great place for last-minute holiday shopping ideas, and I've got other gift suggestions for travelers, too.

For more travel news and insights, view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

But first, the SkyMall catalog: It's that compendium of weird and wonderful things that you never knew you needed until you're trapped on an airplane with nothing to read. So, you pick up SkyMall, and you buy.

Well, a lot of people do. This year alone, the Phoenix-based SkyMall produced 18.4 million catalogs featuring such items as the Jumpin Jammerz (footed pajamas, $44.99), the Twister (portable golf ball cleaner, $29.99) and the Remote Controlled Tarantula (just what it sounds like, $29.95).

Mike Nelson, a TV news producer based in southern Oregon, once bought dress-up costumes from SkyMall as a gift for his little girl, and she loved it. Why'd he pick up the catalog in the first place? Nelson calls it great entertainment on boring flights and adds, "Have you seen the dog kennel that also serves as a coffee table? Brilliant."

SkyMall CEO Christine Aguilera (not to be confused with the star of "Burlesque") said captive audiences on planes is a recipe for retail success, and notes that fliers who buy from SkyMall tend to be affluent and well-educated. More to the point, Aguilera sees her customers as cutting-edge consumers: "They are 'early adopters' who want the latest things before their neighbors have them."

Best SkyMall Gifts

Which I guess explains the success of the Garden Yeti. Think garden gnome, if the gnome bore a striking resemblance to Bigfoot. Sounds priceless, I know, but the 28½ inch tall figurine ("hand-painted for startling realism") can be had for just $98.95.

I'm sure that's cheap compared to the 22-foot-tall yeti on my daughter's and my favorite roller coaster ride -- Disney's Expedition Everest -- but apparently SkyMall's Bigfoot is every bit as menacing. As one satisfied Garden Yeti owner wrote on the catalog's website, "We have him in the garden keeping away the armadillos."

I'll be frank: I'm an airfare expert and can tell you all about finding cheap airline tickets. I know little about the odd yearnings fliers have when it comes to shopping, but SkyMall sure has that covered.

The catalog's best-sellers include the 2-foot-long cordless Bug Vacuum and the Zombie of Montclair Moors (another yard "ornament" from the folks who brought you the Garden Yeti).

Also big: the Canine Genealogy Kit, which my editor at FareCompare purchased. "We did the test and our mutt turned out to be a mix of Beagle, Weimaraner, Chow, and Norwegian Elkhound," she said proudly. I am trying -- and failing -- to visualize such a combination.

By the way, the doggy DNA kit is from the well-known retailer Hammacher Schlemmer, and you'll recognize many other firms SkyMall does business with, but naturally there are SkyMall exclusives.

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