During my recent mileage run to Boston, I was upgraded on the outbound segments and noticed a new addition to the seat-back pocket. Apparently United has quietly launched a new in-flight magazine for its premium cabins and United Club members, similar to American Airline’s Celebrated Living.
The new magazine, Rhapsody, is provided in addition to the original Hemispheres. That’s fortunate because I found it difficult to find anything worth reading in Rhapsody, the latest in a disturbing trend I see in more places than just the airplane cabin. The Wall Street Journal did the same thing a year or two ago with WSJ. But I like to learn something new when I read. I like it to be well written. I like it to be relatively free of advertising and hard sells.
None of these are qualities you’ll find often in the “luxury” magazine segment represented by Rhapsody and others. Flipping through, at least every other page was a full-page advertisement. The few articles that did attract my attention were not-so-artfully disguised ads of their own. Want to learn what Daniel Boulud looks for in a fine Scotch? Sadly it’s just a story about Mr. Boulud’s own line of whisky — now on sale! — without much discussion of what he was looking for when he made it.
Other “articles” devolve into nothing more than a photo-shoot of the latest fashions, as if that’s supposed to tell us anything about the location where they were taken.
There was one piece that didn’t appear to be an ad, discussing some showdown between Amazon.com and a loud-mouthed financial analyst. But it seemed horribly out-of-date with references to the Dot Com bust. Besides, what does being based in Silicon Valley have to do with a company in Seattle? There is a potential connection there, but that’s not the best description of it.
I do think Hemispheres is one of the better in-flight magazines. It has ads, it has some product placement, but it also has more content than much of what I find in these glossy extras. Before the recent changes to the use of personal electronics on board, I was always able to get enough out of Hemispheres for take off and landing.
Rhapsody says it wants to discuss the “finer thoughts in life.” Apparently it thinks rich are dumb enough (or just bored enough) if such poorly disguised copy is all it takes to sell an extra Swiss watch. I would prefer United save the effort and just put copies of The Economist at every seat, although I guess that would actually mean paying for content rather than being paid for poorly disguised advertising.