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Explore This IssueMarch 2011
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Like many academic physicians, I fly a great deal on the way to lectures, meetings, and study sections. My flights are frequent, but I am not nearly in the league of the George Clooney character in the movie, “Up in the Air.” I have Platinum status on American Airlines; TSA agents at the Raleigh-Durham airport know me by name; and some weeks I get more work done in the Admiral’s Club than in my own office. Alas, flying is no fun. To paraphrase and modernize a venerable quotation, flying is nasty, brutish, and at least two hours delayed.
When stuffed in my coach seat (next to a charming, albeit shrieking baby or a persistent little girl who will relieve her boredom by engaging me), I often get weary of reviewing manuscripts or catching up on back issues of A&R. For a moment’s pause and refreshment, I like to peruse the SkyMall catalog in search of a really nifty purchase like Video Recording Sunglasses or a Head Massager that uses heat from vibrating magnets to relieve tension. I have a lot of tension, but I’m not ready to fork over $199.95 for this device, especially since the four AA batteries to power that baby are not included.
When the baby shrieks or the girl’s questions rise to the level where the Head Massager seems like a good idea, I look at the airline magazines. They usually have nice stories about where Sandra Bullock likes to eat tacos in Austin or why I should hold my next convention in Greenville, S.C., or Topeka, Kan., or some other place dubbed the “Gateway to the Whatever,” also known as the place the American Airlines commuter line happens to stop.
What I find especially interesting about the ads in the airline magazines is the manner in which they portray illness … the impact of illness is often minimized and, indeed, may be an object of mirth, merriment, or whimsy.
Like all magazines, the airline magazines are not just about the content (i.e., the human interest features or travel pieces); they also are about the ads. What impresses me the most about these magazines is that, in virtually every publication of a U.S. airline carrier, ads for physicians, hospitals, and medical procedures are among the most common, competing tooth and nail for space with Vegas resorts, steakhouses, and matchmaker services.
While the Food and Drug Administration might regulate direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads, it seems that there is wide latitude for claims for hospitals or physician services, whether to open up a carpal tunnel, obliterate unsightly varicose veins, or laser multiple bulging discs in a single sitting.