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United to no longer offer inflight duty free

And does it really matter?

It's got to be the most awkward* part of any flight: the same cabin crew who is trained to save our lives suddenly walks through the cabin spruiking perfume. They become the Avon ladies of the sky and, in my experience, are rarely rewarded with a sale.


Sure, I like flicking through the magazines, but it's in the same way I like perusing The Watchtower our friendly Jehovah's Witnesses leave in our mailbox: it's an interesting take on the way things are done, but I'm unlikely to commit.


So when news broke that United Airlines was dumping its inflight duty free offering, it got me wondering why more airlines haven't done the same. United was the last of the big three US airlines to close up shop, Skift reported, and yet other carriers keep pushing that cart up and down the aisles. Korean Air's inflight 'mall' even takes precedence over selling more seats, with the carrier reportedly scrapping some 13 seats on its A380s!


For some carriers, inflight duty free is a lucrative revenue stream, an IdeaWorksCompany report claiming Qatar airways pulled in almost half a billion dollars in 2015 from its Duty Free program.


But the US has an already competitive retail environment - especially on the cosmetic and skin care front, which according to GuestLogix is the most popular inflight duty free segment sold. The task to keep up with this, and the investments made by airports to up their duty free offerings have been cited as among the reasons United is pulling out of the game.


In a statement released to the Association of Flight Attendants, United announced that "effective March 31, 2017, we will no longer offer duty-free merchandise on any United flights. United made this decision based on declining sales revenue".


It is likely that inflight retail will continue to move with the times and we may soon have a future where our inflight entertainment is interrupted by as many ads as we have back on the ground, but in the meantime, if you want a cheap/er bottle of single malt and you're flying with United, you'll have to wait for the airport.


*Okay, the MOST awkward part of a flight is when you're next in line for the loo and current occupant opens the door releasing a stench you both ignore.


Written by: Gaya Avery
Published: 20 March 2017

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