Inflight Advertising: How Airlines Make Money And How It Affects You

For frequent flyers, it’s probably quite clear just how common advertising is to the entire travel experience. While most of it stays within the cabin, your aircraft might be wrapped in a livery as some sort of advertising campaign. In this article, we’ll look at all the ways airlines hit us with adverts and ask whether or not this ruins the overall travel experience.

ANA Star Wars C3PO plane
The Star Wars livery has been an ongoing partnership between the studio producing the movie franchise and ANA. It helps to raise awareness of the movie – especially upon theatrical release. Photo: Getty Images

According to a company by the name of FrontM, quoting a London School of Economics forecast, the inflight advertising market will reach a value of $10.8 bn by 2035. From magazines to headrests to 30-second ads before a movie, advertising is everywhere.

The inflight magazine

The inflight magazine might soon be a thing of the past given current events. However, it may survive in digital form, accessible via personal devices. Whatever the format, the inflight magazine is one of the main forms of inflight advertising passengers are presented with during the journey.

We did a quick search online for advertising within inflight magazines and came across a company by the name of PXCom. Interestingly, this one media company manages inflight magazines for the following airlines:

  • Eurowings
  • Air Caraibes
  • Delta
  • Tarom
  • Iberia Express
  • Volotea
  • Aeroflot
  • China Airlines
  • and more…
Woman reads inflight magazine
Dispersed among and within travel articles are adverts from businesses eager for your attention. Photo: Getty Images

“Tourists at destination do not know which restaurant to choose to have a good time and enjoy good products. Raise interest and be one step ahead…” – PXCom website

Advertising has continued to evolve over the years. Nowadays you might still see a quarter, half, or full-page advert promoting a particular product. However, the sneakier way to advertise comes in the form of custom articles and travel guides that feature a particular attraction or restaurant.

PXCom’s website continues by pushing the value of promoting a museum or tourist attraction inflight, calling it an “efficient way to stand out from the competition and attract thousands of tourists.”

Inflight entertainment

These can be some of the most annoying forms of advertisement if not done well. Some airlines, MEA for example, will run a lengthy series of ‘unskippable’ promotions after take-off. For over five minutes, every passenger’s inflight entertainment screen is rolling the same commercial for a handful of services and products.

For other airlines, perhaps those who care more about the passenger experience, it seems to be more common that adverts will play just before the passenger settles in to watch a television show or movie. The nice thing about many of these airlines and their systems is that the ads are completely skippable, allowing the passenger to jump right into the entertainment if they so choose.

Many IFE systems have advertising before or during the flight. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

We offer advertisers and brands to partner with select inflight entertainment airline partners to display standard 30 and 60 second advertisements or custom content to millions of travelers who are already watching prime television and movie selections during their domestic and international flights.Global Eagle website

Everywhere else inside the cabin

And then there is essentially everywhere else within the cabin. This “strategy” is more common on budget carriers, who are a little more shameless with how much selling they do during the journey. Here is a list of places some airlines may sell advertising space for:

  • The seatback
  • Tray table
  • Overhead locker
  • Disposable cups
  • Airsickness bags
AirAsia overhead locker advert
A shot of an AirAsia cabin with what appears to be advertising for a mobile service provider. Photo: Terrazzo via Flickr

Outside the aircraft

The website Tourism Teacher states that some airlines will allow advertisers to paint the exterior of their aircraft to promote their own brand. It also pointed out that while an airline can make a nice sum of money from this (amount not specified), they would still need to weigh the pros and cons.

Case in point: Tourism Teacher notes that Ryanair stopped selling exterior wrap advertising years ago, deciding that “the lost opportunities to advertise their own brand outweighed the money that could be made.”

Of course, other airlines continue to make use of their aircraft exterior for advertising and co-promotion opportunities.  According to the Chicago Business Journal, the “Star Wars” airplane livery tie-in was actually United’s second movie-related marketing deal in 2019.

Earlier that year, the US carrier secured a product placement deal with a newly-released Spider-Man movie. For this deal, we saw Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) take a trip to Europe in the movie. In one scene, he is seen reaching his destination in United’s Polaris international business class. Part of this co-promotion saw the production of a special Spider-Man-themed inflight safety video.

Does it ruin the travel experience?

Of course, this is a highly personal question. Some don’t mind it and are able to tune everything out as they fly through the sky. For others who aren’t as good at tuning things out, the flight experience can feel a little less relaxing. Some passengers may feel bombarded and surrounded by visual noise wherever their eyes are pointed.

Usually, when it comes to inflight entertainment systems – passengers would prefer to begin their television show or movie of choice as soon as possible. Therefore, having to wait a few minutes would feel like an annoyance. Of course, this is mitigated if the adverts can be skipped.

United new livery 737 in flight
United teamed up with Star Wars in the lead up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker. Photo: United Airlines

Sometimes advertising is made fun and can actually enhance the experience. While very much an advert for the Star Wars franchise, many travelers do enjoy the Star Wars liveries adopted by ANA, United, and LATAM aircraft.

And for some people, particularly those who didn’t bring any inflight entertainment of their own, it could be argued that advertising across various surfaces within the cabin might provide a bit of entertainment and reading material!

Sometimes a necessary ‘evil’

For budget airlines, in particular, advertising can be a necessary evil that actually subsidizes and offsets the cost of airfare. This allows low-cost carriers to maintain a healthy profit while keeping ticket prices low.

We can only hope other airlines are using advertising revenue in the same manner but usually, it just equates to a higher profit margin.

How do you feel about advertising in (and outside of) aircraft? Does it drive you mad or are you quite good at tolerating it? Let us know in the comments.

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