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How many people can't resist the urge to flip through the complimentary magazine during their flight?

Let's face it, there's not a whole lot to do on a plane besides watch month-old, Hollywood blockbuster movies.

In-Flight Reading

Even if you bring your own reading material on board, chances are you'll need a break and choose to (at least) scan the reading material the airline provides for you.

So which magazines, considered part of the onboard entertainment, are better than others?

Which ones appeal to the travellers stuck in 'cattle class' (where fellow passengers recline their sweet selves all the way into your personal space), rather than the elitists in first class?

In short, which ones are downright entertaining, and not overloaded with advertisements, golf articles, stodgy art reviews, and stock market advice?

Which magazines offer cheeky, but still interesting, interviews with celebrities, authors, and other noteworthy people, but aren't laden with beauty tips and a cover story on the best wines to be had in the south of France?

When you are on a flight, particularly a long overseas one, you are looking for something not only to pass the time, but with which to keep your spirits high as you are just beginning your travels.

One's mood tends to be anxious and adventurous, so the ideal magazine should contain somewhat frivolous but still stimulating articles, which are culturally relevant and can relieve some of the tension associated with being crammed into a container with wings for six hours, or more.

I looked at all the international travel magazines I could get my hands on. Here's how I sized up them up.

The Best

Air Canada - enRoute:

Winner of a number of awards, you can even read through the enRoute archives online.

British Airways - High Life:

A clear standout, High Life is a slick read, easily maintaining reader interest with articles such as a historical look at UK bands on the US charts, a feature on the 7 architectural wonders of the modern world, and an up-close and personal with British rock favourites Coldplay.

High Life's writers do what lesser writers cannot: they make readers interested in subjects they previously ignored.

A feature story on Versace's importance as a glam designer read like an in-depth cultural analysis of 20th century Rock 'n Roll Hollywood; a welcome change from most insipid fashion articles.

Ultimately, the best thing about High Life is that it's not solely aimed at the first class business traveller. There's something for travellers of every income bracket.

Cathay Pacific - Discovery:

Truly hip, the intriguing topics and vibrant, with ingenious use of photography.

The superb articles include: how to do a Thai-style wedding, Vietnam's spider web tree house, and the flying cats at a monastery in Burma. There was also an interview with Steven Spielberg and a piece on Thai style yoga.

Finnair - Blue Wings:

So many articles, so little time.

A book review of Anthony Bourdain's 'A Cook's Tour'; an article on Marianne Faithfull's tour of Finland; and, saving the best for last, an article on horizontal dining (in which the diner actually eats on mattresses).

That about says it all: hip, significant, cutting edge. Blue Wings' writers appear the most adept at identifying cultural trends before they become overtly trendy, making each new issue of Blue Wings a much anticipated event.

Lithuanian Airlines - Lithuania in the World:

Definitely the most politically charged magazine I sampled, this magazine scores big points for spot on political information, focusing on the implications of NATO membership for Lithuania, as well as tracking the progress of EU accession negotiations.

Also featured great pieces on interesting Lithuanians, which provide a more personal entr´┐Że into the past history and current realities of the Lithuanian people.

Silk Air - Silkwinds:

(Primarily services Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia)

This magazine reads like a travel guidebook and diary all in one.

Superb articles on all things related to travel: unique locations, festivals, cuisine, and biking while travelling. Also features an article on outfitting your apartment in teak, which you no doubt know, is the most weather resistant wood.

Also leading to the magazine's high marks: the airline will give you free postcards and also post them for you upon completion. An excellent service for the weary traveller.

Respectable

Magazines that will hold the reader's interest, but lack a universal appeal, or any real staying power. They are worth your time in the air, but can't compete with other reading matter once you've landed.

Aer Lingus - Cara Magazine:

Very regionalist in nature (which is not inherently a negative), Cara features interesting articles on the lead singer of the Cranberries, undiscovered destinations of Ireland, and Dublin's new architecture.

Other features include travel pieces on Spain and Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

While the magazine does nothing blatantly wrong, it lacks the imagination of some of its more stylish competitors.

Note:
Lisa Gaughran, Managing Director of Maxmedia Communications, contacted us to say that Cara has since been revamped with a more contemporary feel; to hopefully have a broader appeal to readers on Aer Lingus flights.

Croatia Air - Croatia:

Fairly sophisticated magazine, thus justifying its second tier ranking (where's the fun?).

Articles are very regionalist in nature, which doesn't always transfer well, and while technically solid, the art Croatia focuses on is a bit antiquated.

A valiant enough effort, especially for those who regularly read Architectural Digest.

Pakistan International - Humsafar:

Humsafar means travelling companion, or one who can be depended upon to provide peace and comfort during one's journey, and the magazine's name is quite apropos.

It's a charismatic mix of travel and flight information (i.e. an article on why do planes encounter turbulence?) with a charming dose of that prepubescent, doctor's office favourite, Highlights.

Humsafar is far from urbane, and therein lies its charm. While not exactly challenging, the 'Urban Legend', 'Cheer Up', and 'Quotable Quotes' sections are quaint and cutesy, fun and frivolous.

The magazine is nicely rounded out with informative travel pieces on exotic locales.

Royal Brunei - Muhibah:

Royal Brunei's in-flight magazine gets big points for effort. It's editors and writers are definitely trying to create something noteworthy for this small airline.

The issue I saw had an article on tiaras, the Huidong women, and Florida's obnoxious and religious band, Creed.

Quite diverse, often bizarre, Muhibah even contains good recipes.

SAS - Scanorama:

A bit corporate in nature, Scanorama covers such features as life coaching for those in the business world, personal shopping for those on holiday, and billionaire backers of the American Cup, for those with an interest in sailing.

On the lighter side, it profiles Scandinavian players, such as actors and kick boxers.

Scanorama is similar to British Air's High Life, but not nearly as imaginative or fun.

Lufthansa Magazin:

Frankly, I expected more from the major airline of Germany.

Lufthansa contained all the obligatory features of the better in-flight magazines, but lacked any inventive features to set it apart.

What seemed like a good piece on Moby, only lasted one paragraph.

Contains some tough mental fitness tests that scholarly types might enjoy. Otherwise, rather bland and predictable.

Why Bother?

Adria Airways - Adria:

(Based in Slovenia)

Overcome with a stale air, this magazine is just going through the motions.

Interviews with a heart surgeon and the director of a school of management are as boring as they come, and an article on fly-fishing doesn't help matters.

Make sure you bring a book on board.

Aegean Airlines - Blue:

(Based in Greece)

Does a good job of making Greece look fun, exotic, and sexy, but is that really so hard?

Too many fashion layouts make this magazine vacuous and too Vogue-ish.

Air New Zealand - KiaOra:

Portrays New Zealand as a country full of wealthy, adventurous, and beautiful people. I'm not saying these people don't exist in New Zealand, just that there are other, perhaps more interesting kiwis deserving of press time as well.

Way too businessy in nature (we're talking articles on getting an MBA); exactly what the non business class traveller doesn't want to see on his/her journey. A perverted fusion of the Wall Street Journal and Cosmopolitan.

KLM - Holland Herald:

I like the Dutch. I like their country, I respect their politics, and I aspire to their lifestyle.

Unfortunately, I dislike the Holland Herald, the national airline's magazine.

Too many ads and a huge in-flight shopping section make this magazine's content the very antithesis of it's country's inhabitants: stale and frigid.

Swiss International Air Lines - Swiss Magazine:

Boring, boring, boring.

Swiss Mag's writers feel inclined to tell you exactly what overpriced, bourgeois souvenirs to buy in different countries, as well as profiling a boring frequent flyer for each issue.

I no longer feel the need to visit Switzerland.

Conclusion

Perhaps you haven't given airline magazines much thought, but they do vary greatly, and can have a positive effect (however slight) on your flight. And in this age of airline instability and reduction in services (for example, no more free booze on international Continental flights!), the free magazine on your flight becomes that much more coveted.

By Kay Bozich-Owens.

About The Author

Kay Bozich Owen

Kay Bozich Owens subscribes to the theory that the world is a book, and those who don't travel are only reading one page.

After spending much time studying people's behaviors while obtaining a Master's degree in Sociology, she has found it is more insightful (and fun) to travel the world actually meeting other groups of people.

Her work has been published in Morbid Curiosity and Fazed, an international youth culture magazine.

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