High Times

What to read on an airplane when you don't want to pay for $5 headphones to watch the latest Steve Guttenberg movie.

What's the best-read magazine in the skies? Whatever airlines put behind the barf bags. For carriers, in-flight mags are monopoly marketing at its rarest--an opportunity to seize the bleary eyeballs of captive, bored customers. But are they good reading? Fast Company went airborne to see.

American Way (American Airlines)

Our Take: This slick bimonthly features the "Celebrated Weekend," in which an interchangeable celebrity of the moment gives the lowdown on a favorite city. This works, or not, depending on your interest in, say, actor Mark Wahlberg and his deep knowledge of Boston.

Requisite Boss Letter: Gerard Arpey isn't just the CEO--he's a licensed pilot! In one column, he tells how a plane stops. Good stuff.

FC Rating: 3 (out of 4). A clever approach.

Readership: 2.8 million

Attache (US Airways)

Our Take: Attache's business columnist, Daniel Gross, covers with wit and depth such topics as the meaning of corporate colors. And Attache isn't afraid to have a little fun: Its October issue features a Wienermobile on the cover and a story about "nomadic advertising."

Requisite Boss Letter: David Siegel's column, larded with details of his employees' lives, reads like a political speech. That's not good.

FC Rating: 3.5. Slip this into your briefcase.

Readership: 1.5 million

Continental (Continental Airlines)

Our Take: This mag is as skimpy as most airline meals. The covers are buttoned down--Carly Fiorina smiling in a business suit--and the contents are similarly cautious. No Hollywood big shots here, which may be just fine for Continental's pin-striped fans.

Requisite Boss Letter: Gordon Bethune knows how to keep his comments short. If only he didn't write like someone in the PR department.

FC Rating: 2. Like a saltine: a little dry and thin.

Readership: 1.8 million

Hemispheres (United Airlines)

Our Take: Filled with surprises: distinctive abstract covers, impressive photos, and adventurous editorial. Hemispheres features faux Faulkner and Hemingway contests, a series of short stories called "Row 22, Seats A&B," and a top-flight golf columnist in A.G. Pollard Jr.

Requisite Boss Letter: Glenn F. Tilton could use a lesson in self-editing. But the guy cut his own pay last April, so we cut him slack.

FC Rating: 3.75. This is as good as it gets.

Readership: 1.7 million

Southwest Airlines Spirit (Southwest)

Our Take: The tone of this Texas-based magazine (published by the folks who do American Way) is a bit spicy, but it sticks to the standard formula of a city magazine (do we really need another hottest new chefs article?). Its business quizzes, however, did catch our eye.

Requisite Boss Letter: We love Colleen Barrett's bit: concise and personal. And dig her playful photo, smiling mischievously.

FC Rating: 2.75. A city mag aloft.

Readership: 2.8 million

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