SkyMall, the ubiquitous in-flight catalog that reliably greets you in the seatback pocket, is falling victim to technological innovation.
The company behind the catalog that sold you your own lawn garden yeti, or a hot dog bun toaster, or a special ramp for your aging pet has filed for bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 filing from SkyMall LLC and its parent company, Xhibit Corp., says a retail marketplace transformed by Amazon and others is to blame. And analysts say that with more and more airlines offering in-flight Wi-Fi and the FAA allowing broader use of electronic devices, interest in SkyMall waned.
Bloomberg reports that the company and its affiliates "listed as much as $50 million in liabilities and as much as $10 million in assets in Chapter 11 filings in Phoenix Thursday."
The odes to SkyMall are already showing up online. From Wired's Emily Dreyfuss:
"SkyMall was our babysitter. Our distraction. When we got older we delighted in mocking the absurdity of it, how ridiculous and unnecessary was everything in its pages. In this way, we explained to each other that we were maturing, that we weren't dumb little kids anymore. When I became a teenager–embarrassed by everything and everyone–I'd tease the boys for liking anything in the catalogue."
They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but for an estimated 650 million air travelers a year, the certainty was finding SkyMall in our seatback pockets. It's unclear when the airlines will stop supplying the catalogs. The company is putting up SkyMall and other assets up for auction at the end of March. If there's no buyer, or the buyer doesn't share the kitschy catalog vision, we may never have a chance to get the giant tray table nap pillow again.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
SkyMall, the glossy in-flight catalog you can't miss or resist, has filed for bankruptcy. The company cites in-flight Wi-Fi and intense online shopping competition for falling sales.
NPR's Elise Hu looks back.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: If no one buys SkyMall when it goes up for auction, we have to be prepared for a world without the tray table nap pillow or those giant yard yetis, as James Bingham remembers.
JAMES BINGHAM: You always dreamed, like, someday maybe you'd make it big enough to be able to afford those.
HU: Anne Lewis of Pierre, South Dakota recalls SkyMall as a link to home.
ANNE LEWIS: In the early '90s, we lived overseas. And my mother bought us a huge AM/FM shortwave radio from SkyMall so we could listen to Voice of America.
HU: Matthew Bagot of Baton Rouge says it's a link to his mom.
MATTHEW BAGOT: Every flight she took, every business trip she took, she'd bring back a copy for me. And I could always expect that when I got home.
HU: Danielle St. Louis of Madison, Wisconsin uses SkyMall like so many of the rest of us.
DANIELLE ST. LOUIS: It's kind of, like, the thing I look forward to when I get on the plane - is I'm going to get to sort of faux shop through SkyMall.
HU: And Ehren Werner of Santa Rosa reads it to the end.
EHREN WERNER: The very last page of the SkyMall I picked up had a personal submarine/watercraft called the Sea Breacher for the low, low price of only $85,000.
HU: Maybe that's why its parent company is filing for bankruptcy - too few submarine sales. Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.