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The fine art of sky writing

Is it a magazine or just a freebie? Russell Hotten buckles up to read through publications on offer at 36,000ft

American Airlines

American Airlines


The world's biggest airline carries 130 million passengers a year. Shame, then, that this captive audience is not offered a more inspiring read. Seems to be aimed at business travellers, but there's a sparky piece on poker and the magazine isn't dominated by articles plugging holiday destinations.



Producing a dual-language magazine is not easy, but this is messy. The layout makes it difficult to navigate your way through some of the items. Woefully short features on Johnny Depp and Christopher Lee. As for the chairman's introduction: thanks, but I already know that technology is important for aviation.



Has the look and feel (and smell) of a heavyweight glossy magazine, including those endless pages of adverts. More generalist than many of its rivals. Has regular columnists, in this issue writing about "psychopaths" in the office and computing. Plenty of other non-travel items, including an interview with Susan Sarandon.

Kenya Airways


A good inflight magazine should improve your mood, not just pass the time. Msafiri struggles to do either. Putting a picture of a zebra on the cover is hardly original, especially when the inside pages have some striking photography. The first 53 pages are dominated by puff pieces for Kenya Airways and irrelevant news items.

British Airways


A stylish mix of features, fashion and photography. Unlike many rivals, High Life publishes lengthy articles. In this issue chef Antonio Carluccio makes a foodie tour of Turin, and there's a reprise of the Britpop revolution. The only pure holiday feature is about lesser known islands around the Mediterranean.

Korean Air


A surprise hit. No section on boys' toys. No fashion shoot. No introduction from the airline's chairman. And only 10 adverts in 178 pages. But stuffed full of great photography. Kicks off with a "what's on in Korea" section, and the next third is in English. If the paper quality was better, it would not look out of place on your coffee table.



Cheap and cheerful mag aimed at the young and trendy. But surely not all easyJet's passengers are teenagers with short attention spans. There's a readable interview with Moby, and an original feature on Dutch fashion. But an article on golfers is wasted space. The regularly updated city guides are a good reference aid.

Continental Airlines


The unoriginal title says it all. Whereas other mags have gadgets sections promoting computing or music equipment, Continental's page includes a hedge trimmer. The dreary front cover trumpets a major feature about Dell Computers. But the article is short, and leaves an impression that this magazine is about just filling space.

Virgin Atlantic


Unlike anything else on the market, but available only in upper class. The award-winning Carlos is a booklet printed on a sort of expensive writing paper, and oozes quality. Cartoons to browse and amuse, plus good writing. Carlos publishes short stories, which, frankly, should be an ingredient of every good inflight magazine.

Adria Airways


Inflight journals should enhance an airline's image, and based on this one Adria Airways must be a quality outfit. Adria is printed on rich satin paper, with a crisp modern design. A quarterly publication, it knows the value of good photography. But a lack of picture captions is slightly irritating.

Alaska Airlines


How predictable: a cover feature on huskies. But this is a great read, written by an expert in the field. Alaska Airlines prints long articles that can properly explore the subject matter. Strong on "great outdoors" articles. It has a simple layout and user-friendly typeface, but some articles are just squeezed in among the adverts.



Just relaunched so may need a few issues to bed down. A clean and modern design using plenty of white space, but with the sort of front cover you've seen in dozens of newsagents' shelves. This issue is an India special marking bmi's launch of services there, so you never forget it's an inflight mag.