Why Don’t More Airlines Sell Ads on Tray Tables and Overhead Bins?

America West was the first airline to do tray table advertising (in December 2003), a practice that moved over to US Airways on some aircraft. US Airways even experimented with ads on first class tray tables.

AirTran actually launched ads on the backs of the tray tables (at US Airways you actually had to put the tray table down in order to see the ad). United experimented with tray table ads as well.

This is subtle advertising compared to flight attendant announcements encouraging credit card signups on early morning flights when passengers are trying to sleep. I don’t actually see a problem with this. Some customers will see it as tacky, and will diminish the overall experience, but I’m not sure how much more diminished it can be in economy class.

On the other hand since it never spread to the entire US Airways fleet I have to think that advertiser demand wasn’t as robust as you might think considering the desirability of the airline passenger demographic and that you have a captive audience for quite some time.

Perhaps not enough customers put down their trays since airlines aren’t giving them food. However that would just suggest the AirTran model is the correct one.

Airlines monetize nearly everything. They seem to believe nothing will chase customers away, that all passengers care about is schedule and price. So why don’t we see more tray table (or overhead bin) advertising?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I always assumed there was some safety regulation around having ads on overhead bins that could distract from emergency exits or something.

  2. I was so happy to see this disappear on AWA / USA, yes I would rather have lower fares I think but I enjoy the muted cabin interior.

  3. In China it is comment have advertising on the disposable headrest covers, on the back so it dangles behind the seat and is in the line of sight of passenger behind. That solbes the no food, not using tray table, but requires the airline to provide a headrest cover. They could concoct dedicated ad space back there, as in your face as ads over urinals.

  4. Ryanair used to have ads on their overhead bins but I believe that has been discontinued. Which is actually quite surprising since you’d think they’d take any monetization opportunity.

  5. @Joey – “ I would rather have lower fares I think but I enjoy the muted cabin interior.”

    Please don’t tell me you believe airlines would reduce their fares if they earned ad revenue….

  6. I flew on Vietjet a few months back. They had advertising on their overhead bins.

  7. @Joey – “I was so happy to see this disappear on AWA / USA”

    They still exist it is now called American Airlines.

  8. Probably a lack of demand. Public transit is always looking for ways to sell ads, and they have found very limited success with the more “innovative” methods. Companies are more than happy to buy space on a standard ad placement, but in most cases, the cost of finding companies willing to pay for placement in other locations exceeds the revenue brought in.

    Might be because there’s not enough data on how effective these ads are. Does staring at the same ad for 5 hours encourage a conversion? Or hatred?

    Boston had a moving Coraline movie ad in the subway tunnel up for maybe 5 years.

  9. My last Ryanair flight had ads everywhere, seat backs, tray-tables, overhead bins, food wrappers.
    The wake-up revelation (to me) was that I did not mind it for two major reasons.
    1. It was a direct flight from one small airport to another — Valencia to Bologna w/ none of the gawdawful major hub misery and wasted time.
    2. I could pay a reasonable amount extra to get an exit row seat.
    “Legacy carriers” focus on stripped down schedules, sardine seating, and the miserable but cheap (ha!) model.
    Obviously I have different trade-offs than the deteriorating 3.

  10. Low cost airline in East Africa, JamboJet offers product placement deals of branding – $2 per soda can – which they sell in-flight.

  11. Even Skybus didn’t put ads on traytables and bins. Although I kinda wish they had.

    I liked Skybus…

  12. Loved seeing this. I did my Thesis on this very topic back in 2004. I am also surprised it hasn’t gotten more traction.

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