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Airplane Ads to the Ad-Weary Americans?

Posted At: September 6, 2013 8:30 a.m.
by Christi Rich

How would you feel about spending your entire airplane ride staring at the back of the seat in front of you, only it’s covered in advertisements instead of just a pocket holding the Sky Mall magazine?

I discovered an equally wonderful and frustrating company called “Ryanair” this summer on my backpacking trip in Europe that does just this on their flights. Many others before me who have traveled Europe experienced both the marvels and the perils of booking a 700-mile flight for only 40 USD per person. Prices this low are unheard of in America, but it is for good reason.

Ryanair uses a strange and interesting business plan. The cost for the flight alone is always unbelievably low, but the airline makes its money in additional fees and advertising.

When you book your flight online, you see the familiar choice to print your boarding pass at the airport or to receive an email with the pass attached. However, both options have fees attached to them. Choosing to have your pass emailed to you is the slightly cheaper option, but there is yet another catch here. If you choose to print at home and forget, you pay an even larger fee to print your pass at the airport.

Upon finding your seat on a Ryanair plane, the ad on the back of the seat in front of you immediately assaults you. (Staring at a bad photo of a perfume being sold duty-free gets really old after the first 30 minutes in the air.)

When the intercom bell dings during a flight, most passengers immediately pause their movies or take out their ear buds to listen to an important announcement. You expect to hear about upcoming turbulence or that you must put away electronic devices for landing.

But with Ryanair, the intercom is used to read ads out in English for various items available duty-free: Chanel perfume, alcohol, makeup, the usual. It feels constant. That tell-tale “ding” goes off every few minutes, alerting passengers that something important is about to be said, wrenching them from their slumber or music only to sell a product.

Ryanair flight attendants walk back and forth down the aisles, not with complimentary drinks or trash cans, but with duty-free magazines. They personally offer you the magazine many times, in hope that you’ll cave in. This harassment continues the entire flight.

While clearly frustrating as a customer, the idea of a bare bones airline service running purely off advertisements to a literal captive audience is intriguing.

Would a business model similar to Ryanair’s ever work, safety concerns aside, in the United States? Is the idea of a $40 flight from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., enticing enough to Americans, who are already so ad-weary?

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