AirTran passengers get unimpeded view -- of ads

First airlines cut back on in-flight food. Then they added fees to check your luggage. Now one airline is putting ads where passengers can’t avoid seeing them: on the backs of the tray tables that must remain locked and upright during takeoff and landing.

The new advertising plan, announced Wednesday by AirTran Airways, a low-cost, Florida-based airline, is the latest in a trend among recession-battered airlines to increase revenue by charging for extra products and services such as onboard wireless Internet, snacks, drinks and pillows.

Over the next two weeks, AirTran Airways plans to outfit all 138 of its Boeing jets with seat-back advertisements, measuring about 2 1/2 by 9 inches. The advertisements are placed at eye level, so passengers can’t avoid them, except by lowering the tray tables.

Though other airlines have experimented with in-flight ads, AirTran appears to be the first American carrier to put ads on every seat back of every plane in its fleet. The ads are placed in a see-through holder fastened to the back of the tray table, making it easy for ads to be replaced as desired.


Ryan Air, based in Ireland, and Easyjet, based in England, have already tested seat-back advertising. US Airways places ads on the tops of its tray tables, though not on every plane or at every seat. The ads provide extra revenue at a time when airlines worldwide are on track to lose $11 billion by the end of the year.

The first ad on the AirTran seat backs will be for Mother Nature Network, a website devoted to environmental issues that is promoting itself by running a contest for a seven-night cruise.

Mother Nature Network Chief Executive Joel Babbit said his company approved the ad for the seat backs because AirTran offers onboard wireless Internet service, which means passengers can see the ad and then immediately go online to register for the contest.

“We felt that the combination of them being an innovative airline with a new concept was perfect for us,” he said.

An AirTran spokesman could not be reached for comment, but in a statement, Tad Hutcheson, AirTran’s vice president of marketing and sales, said: “We have gone to great lengths to present these advertisements in a tasteful, unobtrusive way that we believe customers will enjoy.”