Thumbing through a SkyMall catalog from 1996
Right after college I joined an IT consulting firm. Our business was based on clients. So I traveled 100% to client sites all over the country implementing a corporate financials software suite called PeopleSoft. So, during my eight years as an IT consultant I became very familiar with airplanes and flying across the country. Because I was flying nearly every week I picked up one of the first commercially available portable DVD players on the market back in 1999, the Panasonic DVD L-50. I still have it and it still works. I literally just let my nearly 4 year old son use it a few weeks ago when the family flew to Colorado.
Because I was on planes 50 weeks out of the year I also became intimately familiar with the in flight magazines. Namely, the SkyMall Catalog. It offered interesting products the likes of which you wouldn’t see unless you walked into a Brookstone in the mall. It was fascinating every month to check out what oddball items were being offered that you could order directly off the Airfone.
During my recent family trip to Colorado I thumbed through the current magazine and thought back longingly to the old catalogs from back in the day. What would they look like now? Well, I got an old copy of the catalog so let’s take a look at the treasures contained within.
The SkyMall copy I have is from mid 1996 and is stamped Southwest Airlines.
Each airline had their own version of SkyMall, the main difference being that there were a few pages in the back that sold clothing and items emblazoned with the airlines’ logo. But they all had the same awesome merch and (now) vintage technology.
So let’s get started.
This ad for a concierge company looks like the cover of a 90s video game simulator called something like Rich & Famous where you play as a wealthy CEO. I imagine it’s a game like Aerobiz.
There are several things that are guaranteed and written into the laws of nature. Death, of course. Taxes. And companies will never stop trying to develop the “perfect” exercise machine. And they’ll all make you look equally ridiculous when you use them (I’m looking at you, Health Rider).
Another guaranteed truth. Companies will always try to design new “gimmick” sunglasses that vaguely perform some “new, cool” function but they look like rejected props from a DEVO video. Or any 60s movie that features people from the future.
This pop up hot dog cooker/bun warmer is STILL sold in SkyMall magazine today. With nearly the exact same picture. Either it’s a best seller or they sold out 20 years ago and just forgot that it was still in the catalog.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve wanted one of these shampoo/conditioner dispensers since I first saw them in SkyMall magazine back in the day. What’s the fourth slot for? I see two slots for shampoo and conditioner. A slot for body wash, I guess, if you use that instead of bar soap. But what about four? The description says…lotion? I don’t know if I agree with that, but I’m sure I can find something to put in there.
This is not a bad idea, extra seating for your living room/den for when you run out of couch space. But why is the family in the picture sitting in the seats like TWO FEET from the TV? Where are their couches? Shouldn’t they just be sitting on said couch? Wouldn’t it make more sense to show a picture of a couch full of people with these seats in front? Bizarre. And what the hell are they watching?
Lots and LOTS of self help tapes. The 80s-90s loved this stuff. I remember several of these being sold on late night infomercials. Especially that Mega Memory set from Kevin Trudeau. And, wow, Pistol Pete Maravich’s Homework Basketball. That’s a pretty awesome video set.
Wireless ANYTHING in 1996 was like living in the future. I didn’t realize this wireless headphone set had been around since 1996. I’ve wanted a pair for a long time because it would come in handy when my wife falls asleep on the couch and I’m trying to be quiet watching a movie/TV show that inevitably wakes her up with gun shots or loud screaming.
It may be hard for some of you to remember when having an entire set of encyclopedias on a CD-ROM was a big deal. Look at that catalog price: $495.95! And that’s DISCOUNTED! Bananas. Back in the mid 90s, I wanted Microsoft Encarta SO GODDAM BAD I could taste it. Now, whatever information I could possibly want (as well as tons of information that I don’t actually want) is just a Google or Wikipedia entry away. But back then, these CDs were our Wikipedia.
Usually sold alongside the giant collections of encyclopedias on CD were giant collections of clip art. All the images you will ever need. EVER. Never use another image after you pay $50 for a collection of generic 8 bit art that looks like it was rejected from the MS Word 95 clip art gallery. Again, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t own at least one mega clip art gallery CD.
Lots of vintage tech goodness on this page. In the upper left is a dedicated cordless phone for dialing 911. Yes, a separate phone that’s essential function is to call 911. That’s it. In the lower left is a phone holder for the 1996 version of a cell phone. Check it out, it looks like the entire bridge of the USS Enterprise. It’s HUGE. Oh, do you need a hands free accessory for that brick? Check one out right here. Try not to chuckle as you check out the electronic databank reminder gadget in the upper right.
Back in 1996 your cell phone’s ringer had two modes; ON and OFF. There was no “vibrate” setting. To get vibrate, you had to buy a separate battery that had the vibrate feature built in. I told you, 1996 is like the Stone Age at this point.
Let’s check out a bunch of fancy gadgets from 1996 that have all been replaced by the iPhone.
It has Caller ID! Adorable! Actually, this SkyMall had a ton of 900Mhz cordless phones which were brand new at the time. All for around $200 (super affordable!). The one in this add is $199.95 and this was around the time that the caller id display was first being put on the handset instead of being a separate box you attached to your phone (we had the separate box).
Personal electronic phone directory. Essentially a digital rolodex. However, it does allow you to place the gadget next to your real phone’s receiver and it’ll create the appropriate tones that’ll automatically dial for you. It’s like the Jetsons up in here!
This is what existed before GPS. It’s like looking at a window into the Middle Ages where people churned their own butter. Detailed directions on an easy to use display? No and no. It’s sort of surprising to me that this hunk of gadget is only $100 while that Britannica on CD set was nearly $500. WTF?!