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  • Writer's pictureAir Travel Andrew

What Happened to SkyMall?

Airplane seatback pocket with a SkyMall catalog, airsickness bag, and safety card
Photo by Kelly Taylor, via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

If you flew during the 1990s and 2000s in the United States, you are bound to remember the iconic SkyMall magazine. SkyMall lived in pretty much every airline seatback pocket in the United States for years. It gained extreme popularity among travelers and was sometimes even more popular than the airline’s own magazine.

What Was SkyMall?

From the perspective of a passenger, SkyMall was a shopping catalog. In reality, it functioned more like an advertisement platform for retailers. Different retailers could advertise their products in the catalog and you could order the products and have them shipped to your house. SkyMall made money by collecting listing fees from retailers and taking a cut out of each sale.

Travelers could find a wide variety of products in the SkyMall magazine, but it was particularly well-known for having some whimsical and weird products: an $1800 unicycle, a glow in the dark toilet seat and a vacuum cleaner to catch flies, just to name a few. 

The business model made a lot of sense at the time. In the 1990s and 2000s, and even into the earlier part of the 2010s, there was less technology and inflight entertainment, ordering from catalogs was more common and electronics were banned during takeoff and landing. People sitting on planes with not much to do were a perfect audience for a shopping catalog.

So Where Did SkyMall Go?

You don’t see SkyMall on planes anymore today – what happened? Based on how their business worked and how technology has evolved over the last decade, you can probably see where this story is going. For the longest time, SkyMall didn’t really have any competitors. They would sign exclusive agreements with airlines and there weren’t many things for people to do when flying.

But developments in technology like tablets, inflight WiFi and seatback entertainment screens, as well as the growth of Amazon and online retail changed the playing field. Plus, regulators started allowing passengers to use their electronics throughout the entire flight, rather than having to switch them off during takeoff and landing. These changes started to pose a threat to SkyMall’s business and the company ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January of 2015.

However, the story does not end here. SkyMall declared bankruptcy in January of 2015, but they were purchased in April 2015 and relaunched the following month as an online retailer. There was a plan to get back into planes but that never really happened. Today, SkyMall is still an online retailer. You can go on their website and browse their selection of items, some of which are still a bit quirky. So even though the days of their iconic inflight catalog magazine are over, SkyMall is still very much alive today.

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