Unlike free checked baggage, another airline tradition — the free, glossy airline magazine — will likely survive the U.S. airlines' fuel-related financial crunch.
That's because advertisers still embrace magazines such as Sky, American Way and WorldTraveler, which tends to keep them profitable. And the well-heeled passengers who read them still love them — spending an average of 26 minutes per issue, according to Pace Communications, which publishes four in-flight magazines.
But high fuel prices have clouded their future because they're hefty, and weight hurts fuel efficiency. Each ad-packed issue can weigh more than half a pound. Due to weight, Emirates Airline recently decided to eliminate its in-flight magazine from all flights. Instead, it plans to post the magazine's content on its high-end entertainment system.
To keep rich glossies in U.S. passengers' hands:
• American Airlines reduced the page size of two of its three magazines already, and will switch to lighter-weight paper starting this fall, says Susan Gordon, head of American's publishing division.
• Northwest in November will shift to lighter paper, says Tammy Lee, a Northwest spokeswoman. Its WorldTraveler magazine averaged 132 pages this year, 19% more than in 2005, she says.
• Continental is studying ways to reduce weight, says spokesman David Messing. It considered scrapping the magazine due to fuel prices but "decided to continue carrying it since it does 'pay its own way' " with ad revenue, he says.
• Delta, whose Sky magazine has the highest circulation of airline magazines with 4 million a month, removed some ad pages to make issues smaller, says Betsy Talton, a Delta spokeswoman. But its main fix is using lighter paper, which this summer cut Sky's weight by a third, she says.
Pace, which publishes magazines for US Airways, United, Delta and Southwest, is giving clients the option to switch to lighter-weight paper while pursuing other strategies, says Craig Waller, Pace's president.
US Airways is considering new paper as long as it's thick enough to withstand heavy use, says Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokeswoman.
It's wise for airlines to keep the free magazines, especially as they do away with other perks, says Samir Husni, chairman of the University of Mississipi's journalism department.
"When you see that word — 'complimentary' — and you take it home, it still has this good feeling," he says.
TELL US: Do you read the in-flight magazines provided by the airlines? What do you like about them? What makes you leave them in the seat pocket?