Safety is still the number-one priority for flight attendants, but retail sales may be a close second, suggests Joe Sharkey in The New York Times (9/24/13). The reason is that "global airlines will raise $46 billion this year from ancillary revenue – revenue other than from basic fares. About half of that will come from selling frequent-flier miles … Checked bag fees account for 20%. But the other 30% is derived from onboard sales" of "food and drink, retail goods, WiFi and in-flight entertainment, as well as revenue from travel package deals with hotels and others."
The trend is driven partly by "the spread of in-flight WiFi linked to passengers’ own smartphones and other devices, as well as increasingly sophisticated entertainment systems at the seat." Consumers are now more accepting "of self-service payments on the ground," too. So, not only are flight attendants doubling as sales associates, but "in-flight entertainment systems" are also serving "as retail channels." Ilia Kostov of GuestLogix, which "sells in-flight merchandising technology," says consumers "will open their wallets" to "entertainment systems as retail channels."
Ilia sees "destination-type content" as particularly ripe for in-flight sales. "There is a lot of money being made selling attractions and ground connections," he says, noting that the average passenger spends twice as much "for the things they do after they get to the destination" as they do for the airline ticket that brought them there. The good news for flight attendants is that mobile devices and entertainment systems increasingly reduce their role in sales transactions. However, sometimes they will still be needed to "deliver the goods that have been ordered."