SkyMall, the seat-back companion that introduced countless fliers to room-cleaning robots and high-end meat has filed for bankruptcy, marking the end of the Golden Age of In-Flight Impulse Purchases. The magazine, which was found on 88% of all domestic flights at its peak, was brought down from its lofty perch by the Internet and improved in-flight entertainment technologies. The CEOs of Sharper Image and Hammacher Schlemmer are currently high-fiving in the middle of a warehouse full of shiatsu-enabled recliners.
Ripe for parody, SkyMall presented a collection of products that ranged from classy - watches and jewelry - to “As Seen On TV" - knives that cut through leather - to the eccentrically banal - babbling brook noise machines and executive putters. The products were not consistent but the vision was: Ideas must be taken to their logical extreme. A trampoline isn't cool, but a floating trampoline will always turn heads.
The company that runs SkyMall is looking for a buyer, but it’s pretty clear that the business model itself is, like so many of those purchases you made after that third high altitude bottle of wine, outdated and impractical. Unlike similar catalogs, such as J. Peterman, Sky Mall never billed itself as a luxury product or even a very interesting one – it was simply an inventory of American ingenuity, there to sell you things simply because you enjoyed buying. With in-flight Wi-Fi making those 30,000 foot high purchases Amazon-able, SkyMall follows the path of countless other mail-order magazines, a relic of a time when we would buy inferior products at a substantial mark-up because we couldn't actually see the product or read customer reviews.
Somewhere, a Roomba, adorned with a Lord of the Rings replica pendant, weeps silently to itself, knowing full well that no matter the speed or price or quality, none of these products will truly fill the yawning void in our lives. We’ll always be just one self-dispensing dog food contraption away from wholeness.
For those fleeting moments however, between handing the stewardess your credit card information and waking up on the tarmac realizing you’ve just bought a $1500 elliptical workout experience, SkyMall brought Americans a certain type of happiness, and for that we salute it. Safe travels, SkyMall. Will the storage solutions be plentiful and the head-massage appliances always in working condition in whatever afterlife awaits you.