No, Tray Table Advertising Hasn’t Come to American Airlines. Would it Be So Bad if it Did?

Runway Girl Network tweeted about the advertising on the tray table of (what looks to me like) a US Airways economy seat.

Airline Passengers are Worth Advertising Too

Fifteen years ago a friend was trying to launch a project to put advertising on aircraft overhead bins.

That didn’t really take off, but the demographic is irresistible — high average income, confined.. and bored.

Although that was an era before personal devices, and before inflight internet. The same advances that killed SkyMall do somewhat diminish the value of inflight advertising.

US Airways Pioneered the Art Form

American West was the first airline to do tray table advertising (in December 2003), a practice that moved over to US Airways on some aircraft.

In fact, US Airways even experimented with ads on first class tray tables, and highlights the opportunity to advertise on tray tables on its website.

AirTran actually launched ads on the backs of the tray tables (at US Airways you actually had to put the tray table down in order to see the ad). United experimented with tray table ads as well.

Tray Table Ads.. A-OK?

I don’t see any problem with this. Some customers will see it as tacky, and will diminish the overall experience, but I’m not sure how much more diminished it can be in at least some experiences with economy.

On the flip side the revenue stream helps fund lower fares and paradoxically better product — because it’s a new way in which a passenger brings value to an airline, through their eyeballs. (In much the same way, a frequent flyer program member and especially a co-brand credit card holder brings incremental value, the latter enough value to waive checked bag fees.)

American Isn’t Running This Ad. It’s US Airways-only

Since this was a Dallas tourism ad there’s been much speculation on whether tray table ads are coming to American (and lots of assumptions that the ad pictured above is from an American flight).

It wouldn’t be that much of a rubicon for American to cross, they’ve certainly done napkin advertising. (So has Delta.)

However, an American Airlines spokesperson tells me that this campaign is US Airways aircraft only. At this point there’s no tray table advertising on American.

Tray Table Seem Like the Best Kind of Monetization, But May Not Be the Future

Now, this is subtle advertising compared to flight attendant announcements encouraging credit card signups. Sometimes those aren’t as good an offer as one can get online, though occasionally there’s an extra thousand or five thousand miles for taking an inflight application.

And tray table advertising never hit all US Airways aircraft, which tells me the demand isn’t that big to do it.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see greater monetization going forward. And I’d rather see airlines monetize the product in a way that doesn’t cost consumers more, that monetization which means more fees. That’s what this sort of advertising represents.

What do you think of tray table advertising? Would you ever ‘book away’ from an airline that had it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It wouldn’t make be book a different airline because of it, but it sure would make traveling in economy even more like riding a city bus than it already is.

  2. Same thing I think about ads on overhead bins. I don’t care. If selling ads for tray tables and overheads helps keep the cost of tickets lower, sign me up for that. We are inundated with advertising all of the time anyway. What difference would this make?

  3. Tray table advertising represents a new low in cabin atmosphere. New planes are rolling out with blue, relaxed LED lighting. AA implemented boarding music to set a mood. Why would they want to cheapen the experience by pasting advertisements over the tray table? I associate that tactic with bargain basement carriers scrounging for every last dollar they can drain from each flight. If an airline’s brand is at all important to its customers I’d hope that AA avoids implementing this.

  4. No problem here with tray ads, at least there’s no sound.
    Now, in exchange, please give me one free checked bag.

  5. wouldn’t make me change, but would annoy me. I don’t believe the money would go to customer benefits (maybe I’m too cynical or just have had too many experiences where cuts go to the execs bonus and not passenger)
    another issue that would bother me (altho some would see it as a positive I think) – it would be harder to see how dirty the tray is!

  6. I’ll bring a box of Sharpie’s, pass them out and invite passengers to use them on the ads.

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