Thursday, January 29, 2015

One more reason to take the train (or just stay home)

Security lines are too long.

Leg room is too short.

Meal service – when you get it – is ghastly.

Airports are too far out.

Air quality is poor.

Overhead bins are over-stuffed.

Toilets are fetid.

We fly in fear that the person in front of us will throw his seat all the way back.

And now it looks like we may not even have the pleasure of leafing through the SkyMall catalog. While the company hopes that there’s a buyer out there for its catalog and its brand, SkyMall has filed for bankruptcy.


Oh, weird products will still be available. Consumer-wise, we’re living in the Age of Infinite Cornucopia. No app is too ridiculous, no product so useless and far-fetched that it won’t find its audience. But, unless the crackpot product is fortunate enough to go viral,  or it’s got some marketing heft behind it and shows up on a shopping network, you more or less have to go into your product search with some vague inkling of what you’re after.

What the SkyMall provided was The Great Aggregation: all those bizarre, ridiculous products under one roof – or at least in one catalog.

Business Week rounded up a few of the more outré offerings: the mounted squirrel head, the yard zombie, the hoodie pillow case. (Check it out: some very nice pictures of these obscure objects of our desire.)

In case you were wondering about Sky Mall, it started out in 1990:shoe wine holder

It touted itself as a purveyor of  “unique merchandise” and never had to defend that claim against vigorous dispute. Around 650 million people a year viewed the catalog, according to the company’s website.

And speaking of websites, theirs is certainly worth a gander.

What man wouldn’t want a hot dog scented tee-shirt? (For women, it’s piña coladawinky bag.) And who among us doesn’t know at least one combo shoe and wine buff who could use that combo shoe and wine holder? Not to mention someone who would like nothing better than to sport a “winky bag”? (If so, you’re at least temporarily out of luck, as this item is not currently available. And if SkyMall truly folds, well, I shudder to think…)

Alan Lobock, a co-founder of SkyMall, said he never expected the catalog to develop its reputation as a source of zany gifts, though he's pleased with the brand's legacy now. The original intention was to get customers to order within 20 minutes of landing and have the goods waiting for them on arrival. SkyMall would later switch to home delivery.

Huh? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but I have no memory of being able to place a SkyMall order while on a plane  - unless us passenger shoppers were expected to use that $12 a minute, cream-colored plastic air phone embedded in the seat back of the middle seat to make sure that the inflatable nativity scene was there waiting for us when we arrived. The only catalog shopping I’ve ever seen onboard is duty free merchandise on overseas flights, or stuff like plastic models of Aer Lingus planes.

"We tried to pick items that were likely to appeal to a traveler, whether that'd be gifts to their children or things they could use on vacation," said Lobock. "It was never intended for shock value."

Oh, I would say shock. But I would definitely say awe.

Whether for the shock or the awe or the just plain ludicrous junk (admittedly tempered by some practical stuff), I will miss SkyMall.

Not that I ever got on a flight without ample reading. (I have had delayed flights where I’ve had to do a bit of panic buying. Vanity Fair is pretty good for a long-ish flight.) But it was always comforting to know I could take a break with my trusty SkyMall catalog.)

Next thing you know, they’ll be getting rid of the in-flight magazines, so we won’t be able to read about the ten best steakhouses in Paducah and see how we do on those Mensa puzzles. And then they’ll take away the safety instruction card. They’ll expect us to read all about it on our Google Glasses or our other personal electronic devices.

I did note last October that Brookstone – which used to be so stuffy and serious – was starting to give SkyMall a run for their money.

Nonetheless, I do hope someone picks up SkyMall, and that they keep on printing – and not just setting up virtually.

Here’s an earlier Sky Mall post. What am I going to do without them?

Guess I’ll be okay as long as folks like my sister Trish keep plying me with ideas. Thanks for sending this one my way.

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