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American Airlines Outsources Its In-Flight Magazine

My first full-time magazine job was at American Way, the in-flight for the airline. This was circa 1993. Zac worked there, too, prior to joining D, from 2005 to 2007. Eric did several tours there (and at Spirit, Southwest’s in-flight, which was later taken over by Pace). Jessica Jones, who works for our D Home, used to work there. And American Way’s creative director (David Radabaugh) and senior art director (Brian Smith) once worked for D. Point is: there are a lot of connections between that magazine and this one.

So I was dismayed to learn that the operation will no longer be run in-house by American Airlines Publishing. The airline has decided to outsource the magazine to a London-based company called Ink. The first Ink-stained issue will find its way into seat-back pockets in January 2015. I asked Adam Pitluk, the director of AA Publishing, for some more details about the move.

He tells me Ink will open offices in Miami and somewhere in North Texas. Miami will mainly do global sales, and the office here will handle editorial. Pitluk will remain at AA to manage the relationship between the two companies and to produce the passenger information pages in the back of the magazine. Fifteen people work at AA Publishing. Ink’s new staff will be a combination of current AA employees and new hires. “We are confident,” Pitluk said, “that we can find homes either at Ink or at American for the majority of the staff.”

Once upon a time, American Way was a fat, ambitious magazine that ran 4,000-word stories by the likes of Paul Theroux. I’ve still got a phone number for David Sedaris in my contacts because I called him out the blue once to ask him to write for the magazine. God only knows if the number works. Probably not. And the magazine itself no longer works like it once did. No more 4,000-word stories, no more 300-page issues. But for my money it’s still the best in-flight. I hope the folks at Ink take good care of it.

18 comments on “American Airlines Outsources Its In-Flight Magazine

  1. before laptops, tablets, phones and in flight wifi, besides sleeping or listening to a Walkman, American Way was the only way to pass the time on your flight.

  2. what are those? I meant it as in to me, that was the best way to pass the time. Book shcmooks, I read enough of those in school that I didn’t want to read books when I was on the plane, though my father was a prolific reader :)

  3. Remember that time Tim’s screaming face was on the cover, doing a hundred miles an hour? I’ll bet you don’t.

  4. I predate all of you at American Way, having joined AA three weeks before their move to Texas from Manhattan. If I had a nickle for every map I drew for the New Yorkers I woudl be rich. I remember trying to explain why it was Houston and not House-ton to one transplant. She said, ” Well in the village the streeet is pronounced House-Ton.” I replied, “Honey, it’s a city here named for a Texas hero named Houston.” The summer of 1980 when it was over 100 degrees for 30 days in a row. One of the New Yorkers was complaining about the heat and a Texas hire said, “Honey, that’s God’s way of saying ‘Yankee go home.'” We had strick instructions to write only about fads and trends so as not to inflamve the passengers at 30,000 feet. Kathy LaTour

  5. Yes, the cabin became a microcosm of our culture at large. But the reaction to all that added distraction always seemed to be “Make things shorter! More points of entry! Infographics! People don’t want to read long. They have too many other things fighting for their attention.” I think it was the wrong reaction. People want a respite from all that distraction. A great magazine story can provide that.

    Anyway, the magazine eventually grew so thin that there weren’t enough pages for long stories.

  6. I can put my hands on a copy of that issue when I get home. I probably have the last one. I’ll put up a link to the pic in this space tomorrow.

  7. How hard did D try for that business?

    I remember well D’s attempt to win over Southwest Airline’s magazine with a full scale pep rally, including cheers, tempera paint banners, and a marching band at the former headquarters on Oak Lawn. It effectively shut down the office for a while; I think my office manager got some flowers out of it.

  8. Just remembered: not long before I worked there, the magazine published a profile of Lee Iacocca, who did not at all like the writer’s description of his (Iacocca’s) eyebrows. Iacocca was a buddy of AA CEO Bob Crandall’s. Crandall went to the magazine and let it be known that this sort of thing could never happen again. Whoever was in charge at the time (Doug Creighton?) said something to the effect of “I can’t promise you that. When you’re doing a profile of something and you describe them, you never know when the person won’t like the description.” To which Crandall replied: “Easy. No more profiles.”

    Maybe the story was apocryphal. Maybe I’ve misremembered some details. But when I worked there, we weren’t allowed to do profiles. Odd thing for a magazine.

  9. As promised, here is that cover of me in the Viper. From November 1994:

    http://frontburner.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/American_Way_Viper.jpg

    The Viper had been in production at that point for two years. The editor at the time was John Ostdick. I pitched the story to him as the rebirth of the American muscle car. I got lucky on the timing, because Chrysler was hosting more than 200 Viper owners, with the cars, in Detroit, where we all got drive around the Michigan International Speedway before an Indy race. Rereading that story, I was struck by how much I owe that magazine and John Ostdick for printing the first longform stories I ever wrote.

    I also had a look at the contributors listed in the staff box. The group included Geoffrey Norman, Mary Roach, Robert Draper, and Ray Bradbury. Goodness.

  10. They’re looking for an editor, managing editor and art director, according to Mediabistro.com. Don’t everyone apply at once.

  11. Being a veteran of in-flight publishing going back to East/West Network and Brighton Inflight Group, I managed to publish Continental (Profiles), United (Vis A Vis), Northwest Portfolio), Pan Am, Eastern (Review), TWA (Ambassador) Braniff (Destinations), and Hawaiian (in Paradise) magazines – all fat and happy when it was a good business, Times changed, technology changed, I remember when American Way took the bold move of doubling their frequency to have fresh content for frequent travelers. These days you seldom see anyone even take an inflight mag out of the seat pocket. The content isn’t what it used to be (partly because they are too thin). Don’t think there is much life left in the inflight niche now.