Flying into Neverland: The precious and vacuous world of In-flight Magazines

Flying into Neverland: The precious and vacuous world of In-flight Magazines

“Toronto is embracing its gritty history with a new affection, a nostalgia that trumps even Trump and the other glittering downtown gems that thumb their noses at the – recession? What recession?

Toronto the Great

From Parkdale to the Park Hyatt, Toronto embraces both its glittery and gritty sides.

By Charlene Rooke

En Route Magazine

September 2010


As airlines try to inject fun into flying again, nine years after 9-11, it is interesting to reflect on what you have to pay for as part of in-flight service in Canada. Meals, drinks, seat selection, frequent flyer points, rebooking missed flights and even the lowly headset have all been reconstructed as extras in the price structure of the modern airline ticket. Conspicuous by its absence from the new fee structure is the long suffering airline magazine.

It’s still free. You are even asked to take the copy with you – presumably to share with family, friends and co-workers.

What this means is that airlines must be viewing their in-flight magazine as part of their marketing of air travel or to attract market share. That got me thinking about the type of world that these magazines inhabit in the new era of decidedly unglamorous air travel.

After reading En Route’s latest cover article on Toronto[1],  it became clear that  the in-flight magazine is trying to reintroduce us to the hip world of the ‘in-crowd’, rich and carefree,  in  hyphenated fashion, the new jet-set.  In September’s confection on Toronto, we are introduced to an entirely strange Toronto – strange to me at least – defined by a slender but truncated corridor that diagonally extends from mid-Parkdale to the Bloor and Avenue Road area.

It is a curious Toronto populated by Mark Kingwell, Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Cole, Richard Florida, and Mary Aitken. It is Toronto with money and panache with ‘destination’ bars and restaurants – an unselfconscious metropolis that is beginning -ever so slowly – to hold its own with Paris and London. Written in the style of self observation made famous by the expeditionary narrative of the National Geographic or the personal travel diaries of Kerouac or Hunter S. Thomson, the Toronto of Charlotte Rooke’s last line is an executive class canvas on which she paints herself:


“All around me, beautiful people nibble gorgeous food from nimbly manoeuvred             chopsticks and sip from slender stemware. They sink back into cushy banquettes, talking       and laughing long into the night, caught up in the whirl of a metropolis that has relaxed,       at last, into being Toronto.”

The temptation to strictly fashion this riposte into a critique of Charlotte Rooke’s piece (however delicious that would be), is ultimately misplaced. I want to descend from the clouds and talk about Toronto outside its coolest slender diagonal corridor. I want to talk about the Toronto populated by the people who fly its airplanes.

They are hardly ever poor but they are often from Scarborough, Rexdale, and Jane Finch. They are women and men, Christian and Muslim, black and white, south Asian, Black, and Aboriginal. They inhabit a Toronto that deserves to be showcased by in-flight magazines that purport to represent its best attributes. However important the slender corridors are that forever attract the jet set and repel or deny recession, the whole of Toronto, its diversity, its real successes and failures, remain as what’s most important to its residents as well as those who fly in and out.

May I suggest to En Route Magazine that there is a better way to showcase Toronto? Or is our only audience a presumably precious and vital demographic of lounge-privilege wannabes who ignore the audio swirl of warnings and announcements to devour the business class dream of the cool recession-proof Toronto of ‘brainiac’ stars and luxury services? Who knows?

Adopting the style of the expeditionary narrative, I reach down into the seat pocket, beyond the barf bag and I unearth a copy of Toronto Magazine 2010: Bright Lights – Toronto takes Centre Stage[2]. The cover picture is all platinum blonde, aviator sunglasses, leather jackets and cool.

The slender corridor of the En Route world expands to include the Annex and a diverse and trendy downtown. I think we’re making progress. Then suddenly with no Scarborough, no North Rexdale, and no inner suburbs at all, we are told that under ‘more to explore’ on p.82, we have Mississauga, York Region and Niagara.

So it’s just like the Politburo at the Mayday parade. The in-flight world has expunged the inner suburbs. I look up. Then I look down a different corridor from the last seat on the plane from Toronto to Regina and see my fellow Torontonians from every part of the city. They are airline customers that buy tickets.

I wonder if they know that their world does not pass muster with the world of the in-flight magazine. Are they reading about the in-flight Toronto that does not include them?

I sit back as the airplane ascends. I close my eyes. I am wondering where the coolest places in Regina might be. Presumably, there is no recession there either. Recession? What Recession?

John Stapleton

September 9, 2010