Airline magazines are generally easy reads. Packed with travel-related articles, propaganda promoting the airline, crossword puzzles, and mostly advertisements, even the best mags in the industry hardly leave a lasting impression.
I do appreciate United’s Three Perfect Days feature and their old Seat 22 A&B fiction series, but most articles read like a travel brochure or well-crafted press release. Sure, it’s great to read about five star restaurants and hotels in Paris, but isn’t their more to Paris than $500 foie gras and a stroll through the Lourve? In other words, most airline magazines share an idealized account of the locales they are trying to pitch, filled with double doses of sugarcoating and poetic waxing.
Enter Safi Airways, a start-up Afghan airline. So you want to go to Afghanistan, eh? Safi’s in-flight magazine helps to inform you what you are really getting yourself into.
In the seat pocket in front of you on Safi, you will find an article on Kabul heroin addicts, photos of bullet-pocked tourist sites and ads for mine-resistant sport-utility vehicles.
The airline provides this insider’s tip about one of the city’s leading luxury hotels: "The rooms are individually air-conditioned, accessorized with amenities you will find in 4-star hotels abroad, sheets are clean, view from the room is nice, and—after the suicide bombing that took place—security measures have been implemented."
The brain behind the magazine is German editor Christian Marks, who justifies this unconventional magazine in this way:
"I would like it to be a magazine where you can read interesting things, not just get brainwashed by some marketing agency that says you can’t show problems."
Don’t think the magazine is all bad news though. You’ll still get listings of fine restaurants and hotels and more "cultured" tourist attractions. Like this pool for instance:
The Bibi Mahru swimming pool overlooking Kabul offers a beautiful view of the city, but contains no water, the magazine reports. Its diving platforms were "notorious as an execution spot" under the Taliban.
And don’t forget, "riots happen occasionally and are often accompanied by looting."
The magazine is heavily tempered, however, by the realities of a country facing an angry, anti-Western insurgency given to ambushes and kidnappings. When he is in Kabul, Mr. Marks himself says he carries a Russian pistol under his jacket, since he doesn’t intend to go down without a fight.
Somehow, I don’t think an exposé of unemployment, crime, and destitution in Detroit or St. Louis would go over well in Hemishpheres. But I have to admire Mr. Marks for his unconventional style and blunt honesty.