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Get ready for yet another assault of crass commercialism – this one way up at 35,000 feet in the friendly skies of airline travel.
Having jammed us into our seats and buckled us up, the airlines have noticed that we’re not just passengers – we’re “marketing units,” sitting ducks for sales pitches on whatever products the air barons want to hustle. So now, every major airline is scheming with brand-name marketers to turn their planes into flying shopping malls, using everything from seatback videos to pitches by flight attendants to sell stuff to us.
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Of course, marketers are drooling at the happy prospect of getting onboard with us, because we would literally be captive customers for two or three hours on each flight. One of the companies trying to set up this high-flying concept points out that this offers unique retailing opportunity, because, unlike stores, these sellers “are able to lock their doors with their customers inside.”
There are, however, a couple of flies in this commercial soup. One, who decides what can be sold? Could Amtrack do a promotion called, “Next time take the train,” and sell tickets for future trips? What about a company that makes fine quality caskets, or lawyers who represent injured or mistreated passengers? How free will this market be?
Second, the job of selling is to fall to flight attendants. Don’t they have more important things to do? Are their salaries to be replaced by sales commissions – and do they really want to be perceived by passengers, not as our helpers, but as merchandise hawkers? Rather than offering coffee, they’d be trying to sell an espresso machine to you.
Still, airline honchos see the chance to squeeze a few more dollars out of us, so the commercial hustle is already being tested. Instead of viewing the airplane as a means of transporting people, they’re now looking at it as “a cash register in the air.”
“Airline Tests Shopping Mall At 35,000 Feet,” The New York Times, November 17, 2009.