NEW YORK — Apparently, airline passengers aren't buying enough garden gnomes, superhero pajamas and heated cat shelters. SkyMall has filed for bankruptcy.
The quirky in-flight shopping catalog has been a mainstay on airlines for more than three decades. Passengers with nowhere to go would pull it from the seatback and flip through the pages. While flying high over Iowa, they could dream about owning a $16,000 multisensory home sauna or a grill spatula with a built-in flashlight for $29.95.
But in recent years, passengers have found other distractions. More planes have seatback TV screens. The federal government now allows us to keep Kindles and iPads on during the entire flight, and most jets in the U.S. now have Wi-Fi.
"Nobody's bored anymore. They don't have a captive audience," says John DiScala, who runs the travel advice site JohnnyJet.com "Not only is it full of germs but travelers today have all the information they need at their fingertips."
So Thursday, SkyMall's parent company, Phoenix, Arizona-based Xhibit Corp., filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. bankruptcy court. In the filing, the company said it has
$1 million to $10 million in assets but $10 million to $50 million in liabilities.
Its biggest creditors are airlines. The company owes American Airlines $1.6 million, Delta Air Lines $1.5 million, Southwest Airlines $400,000 and United Airlines $300,000.
Many companies — including airlines — emerge from bankruptcy to survive for many more years. SkyMall must find a way to stay relevant to passengers who are no longer a captive audience. It will also need to convince airlines to keep filling their planes with the magazine. Fewer airline seats now have seatback pockets to hold a magazine. And airlines are much more aware of the added fuel cost for carrying the heavy publication — a recent holiday version had 170 pages.
Delta stopped carrying the magazine in the fall.
If the magazine were to shut down, there's nothing else to fill its niche. The beauty of SkyMall — after all — is that it highlights items passengers never thought they needed. Where else can you order a remote controlled tarantula while flying at 35,000 feet?