Image: Jorge De La Paz

Airline passengers may be the ultimate captive audience, but are carriers going too far with in-flight credit card pitches?

Flight attendants have been marketing credit cards for years now, and some passengers have had enough. “These in-flight credit card harangues are beyond annoying,” posted Twitter user @rossgarber in July. Meanwhile, @michaelrubin called the practice “plane-annoying,” adding, “Understand the FA is doing their job but people are trying to sleep/rest.”

Part-time travel blogger Andy Luten was particularly disturbed this May when a credit card announcement woke him up 40 minutes before landing on an American Airlines flight: “As a frequent flyer, it’s annoying and invades my flying experience … I hate the credit card pitch because it turns paying customers into marketing collateral.” Understanding that the practice probably won’t disappear, he implores the airline to limit the window for pitches to right at the beginning or the end of a flight, when passengers are already being addressed.

“Our crew are effective ambassadors, who can communicate in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card.” – United Airlines

As of September 1, United Airlines began having its flight attendants make similar in-flight announcements about its co-branded credit card. “Our in-flight crew are effective ambassadors, who can best communicate to our customers in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card,” reads a statement released by the airline. A spokesperson stressed that the announcements are being made at the beginning of the flight, following takeoff.

On the one hand, airline revenue from loyalty programs is growing – largely thanks to the sale of miles to credit card issuers, reports the Wall Street Journal. And flight attendants are surely happy to supplement their incomes with commissions of $50 to $100 when passengers open new accounts. But airlines may wish to consider the potential downsides of these sales pitches, when customers have their entertainment or sleep interrupted or when interspersing important safety announcements with credit card offers results in passengers tuning out.

Southwest Airlines, which boasts J.D. Power’s highest customer-satisfaction rating, doesn’t generally require its flight attendants to make announcements regarding its credit cards or Rapid Rewards program. But when a flight attendant does choose to get on the loudspeaker to market the credit card or program, they are encouraged to have fun with it and “it’s not uncommon for them to do so,” says an airline spokesperson. As for mixing safety announcements with credit card pitches, the spokesperson says the number one purpose of in-flight announcements is to ensure the safety of passengers and crewmembers.

Elevated Pitch was originally published in the 8.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.