Singapore Airlines is launching something that may make airport newsagencies quiver with fear: a selection of 20 international magazines for passengers, readable via the seat-back inflight entertainment system.
Singapore Airlines has been trialling an electronic version of its own inflight magazine since July last year, promoting the move as fuel and paper-saving, and thus, environmentally friendly.
It says the trial has been so successful that it is extending it -- still on a limited number of aircraft -- to include the latest editions of 20 magazines, including The Economist, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wall Street Journal Magazine, Prestige and Elle Magazine.
If you're imagining how difficult it might be to read a magazine on the grainy, low-contrast screens often found on older 747s, you need not worry -- you won't have the option. Singapore Airlines says the system is only appearing on planes that are fitted with high resolution screens and new Panasonic eX2 inflight entertainment systems.
The magazines will be available on SIA's Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER planes, and the airline says it plans to extend the offering to screen readable newspapers and books (though it's presumably tough luck if you don't get to the end of the book by the end of the flight.)
The magazines will be available from "this month", the airline says, though no specific date was offered.
The next planes in line to get the upgraded inflight entertainment system are the Airbus A330-300 and A340-500 fleets.
The biggest drawback of the system is that the on-screen magazines are only available when the inflight entertainment system is switched on -- and Singapore Airlines switches the system off during takeoff and landing (and the ascent/descent periods around them).
That's a key advantage for paper magazines -- you can read them during takeoff and landing, when every other form of entertainment has to be switched off.
Qantas leaves the inflight entertainment system on on its newest Airbus A380s during takeoff and landing, so hopefully this is a policy that Singapore Airlines will reconsider in the future.
We also can't help thinking that an on-screen magazine is going to be trickier to read than a printed one, but we'll reserve judgement until we can get some reports back from Australian Business Traveller readers who've used the system first-hand.
The airline does say in its announcement that the system will have "keyword search, personalised font size, auto-scrolling and different zooming levels to aid reading."
What flights will have the free magazines? You can see whether your flight with Singapore Airlines will be on an Airbus A380 by checking A380flights.net. Alternatively, when booking flights on singaporeair.com, you'll be able to see what aircraft is being used for a flight before you confirm your flights.