Flying will never be the same; SkyMall catalog is going digital

Posted at 3:37 PM, Jan 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-30 17:34:24-05

The pouch in the seatback of an airliner contains certain requisite items:

  • The plastic cards explaining the aircraft and basic safety procedures, basically unread except for a brief period after a USAir flight crash landed safely in the Hudson;
  • The sick bag, the less said about it the better;
  • The airlines’ own glossy magazines whose anodyne prose is designed to impress upon you that other people are having more fun in better destinations than the one you’re headed for.
  • Finally, the inquisitive passenger is rewarded with SkyMall, the ubiquitous airborne catalog of stuff you never knew existed but in the throes of air travel tedium and oxygen depletion you now feel you can’t live without.

My wife, who flies a lot on business, has grown increasingly covetous of a life size garden statue of Big Foot, only $2,250. Don’t have a garden? Sky Mall has as a collection of artificial greenery in 9-foot lengths nearly 5-feet high, “faux” ivy in six-foot sections and topiaries in four varieties that “never need watering.”  One would hope not since being fake, they’re basically dead.

Deep in the catalog, past the point where the kids have lost interest – doggy beds and elaborate kitty litter apparatus ($359.99 for the robot self-cleaning litter box) – is the underwear section, skin tight garments that promise to lift, shape, slim and support. The implicit lesson is that to get a great body start with models who already have one.

SkyMall starts off with active devices. Indeed, the cover of what sadly seems to be the last issue shows a 30ish something traveler gliding along outside an airport on a wheeled carry-on that converts into a skateboard. If you think you’ll look an early adapter instead of a dork, it’s yours for $349.99 plus another $80 if you want it equipped with a Bluetooth speaker.

The conventional wisdom is that SkyMall’s demise was inevitable when the airlines lifted the ban on electronic devices, whose use SkyMall abetted through an assortment of stands, holders, pads, chargers -- “up to 7 USB ports at once,” and cases with smudge-proof surfaces for devices that require swiping and fingering.

Some of us think the end of SkyMall is more of a generational thing. Those who came of age marveling at the wonders offered on the back pages of comic books – “X-ray glasses!” – are dying-off or wise enough to know that we wouldn’t want to see 99 percent of the population naked even if the glasses worked.

But like SkyMall, these back pages were a treasury of wonders – the fly in the ice cube, worm farms (“make money raising night crawlers”), whoopee cushions, fake barf and sea monkeys that magically came alive, if briefly, when added to water,

Sadly, that credulous generation grew up, finally realizing that the answer to the proposition, “If you can draw this, you can be a professional artist,” is, ‘No, you can’t.’

Just when that generation outgrew the back pages of comics and the simple joys of gullibility, there in the seatback in front of us was SkyMall with a robot, $119.99, to automatically clean your grill. “Amaze your friends!” as they used to say.

After “25 Years of the Coolest Stuff on the Planet!” as SkyMall boasts, it’s giving up its catalog and going online, but where’s the fun in that? Somewhere a life-size Bigfoot (6’, 147 pounds, although how they know this I don’t know) is shedding acrylic tears.

Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer in the Scripps Washington Bureau.

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