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Mark Jones: Magazine or ebook with your onboard meal, Sir?

The View From Here
  • @markmywordsltd

It was the kind of meltdown you get when a celebrity is asked to observe the rules that apply to ordinary people.

The actor Alec Baldwin was asked to leave an American Airlines flight for refusing to turn his iPad off as the flight prepared for take-off. The outraged star even took the machine into the loo and shouted at the crew when they suggested he return to his seat and turn off all electronic equipment.

Let's hope he gets a heavy and very old-fashioned book thrown at him. He should be banned from using any electronic entertainment and made to read inflight magazines for the rest of his flying life.

Some of you will argue that such a punishment is excessive and verges on the inhumane. Surely no 21st-century traveller should be forced to consume dog-eared publications featuring "A message from our chief executive" or "The art of basket-weaving In Upper Silesia"? As the late Miles Kington once quipped, given the choice between reading the sick bag and the inflight mag, he'd choose the sick bag.

I've had a long association with High Life, BA's inflight magazine – and have long begged readers and advertisers not to compare it with other airline magazines. We've employed proper writers and photographers and have never, ever written about basket weaving (although, true, a predecessor of mine did once run an article called "All the world loves a potato").

We try, as my marketing friends say, to transcend the category. But soon there may not be a category to transcend. Airlines are experimenting with something hideous called "gate-to-gate connectivity", which means the Baldwins of this world can play their games from the moment they're settled in their seats. Then we'll get inflight streaming, so you can download content to your heart's content. Paper? Reading? That's costly, dull stuff that clutters up the seat pocket and weighs down the plane.

That, at least, is what some media gurus and faddish airline execs are thinking. But it's emphatically not what the passengers are saying. We carried out a survey, asking if travellers would prefer a digital version of High Life and five out of six said they prefer print.

Enough advertising from me. I'm more than happy to plug other airlines' mags. Air Canada does a creditable job, and some of the US editions are better than the airlines that sponsor them. Two low-cost operators, Vueling in Spain and Kulula in South Africa, do sparky and funky really well, and the offers from easyJet and Ryanair are highly readable.

However, the standard still isn't high enough – there's too much self-serving corporate bumf. This is a shame, because the aircraft cabin is about the last place left where you still have time to sit, reflect and read. More connectivity is coming, but passengers, especially regulars, are highly ambivalent. They see flying as a refuge: from emails, calls – even family.

Even the marketing people are coming around. A man from Mintel gave a fascinating presentation the other day on the rise of what he dubbed Slow Media. Just as some of us like to take our time over our food, so we might like to sit quietly with a good book or a magazine for an hour or two. That's not Luddite; it's just human.

Mark Jones is editorial director of Cedar Communications, which publishes BA's High Life magazine