Get ready for the joy of in-flight credit card pitches from cabin crew

Would you like a credit card with that?
Would you like a credit card with that?
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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From buying your own alcoholic beverages to paying for checked baggage, it’s no secret that modern air travel is increasingly becoming a far more mercenary experience.

But now, major US carriers including American Airlines and United are adding another revenue-generating element to the in-flight experience: credit card signups. That’s right, at least two carriers are turning their flight attendants into temporary salesmen and women—all in the hope that you might sign up for a credit card at 40,000 feet.

American Airlines has been engaged in the practice with its co-branded Barclays AAdvantage card since at least the beginning of this year. JT Genter of The Points Guy noted back in February that the pitch can go on for as long as three minutes, often interrupting in-flight entertainment and waking up passengers mid-flight.

Meanwhile, Skift reported last week that United is making in-flight pitches for its co-branded Chase United Explorer card mandatory on both domestic and international flights effective September 1. Flight attendants will be provided compulsory training and will be incentivized with a $100 commission per signup. All of which means that in addition to all the usual vagaries of commercial air travel, you should now need to be prepared to fend off a sales pitch if you’re flying one of these carriers. Not everyone is pleased.

From an economic point of view, it’s not a mystery why airlines are engaging in this somewhat heavy-handed sales tactic. Branded credit cards are big business, and in-flight pitches are seen as a way to sign on more casual fliers—ones that might not be privy to the latest card releases. And from a marketing standpoint, one can’t argue that a flight full of belted-in passengers is the very definition of a captive audience. As Skift noted, “everyone, from the bank to the airline to the flight attendant, gets a cut.”

But that’s not to say there aren’t pitfalls, namely to do with passenger experience. By trying to encourage loyalty in its less frequent passengers, airlines run the risk of irking their most loyal flyers—those with elite status or airline-specific credit cards and would rather not hear a sales pitch on multiple flights per week. In addition, concerns have been raised by some that the pitches aren’t always accurate, though American Airlines clarified to The Points Guy that any deviation from the script would be taken seriously. Either way, it’s not hard to see that an airplane seat perhaps isn’t the best place to review the T&Cs of a credit card application.

In a statement to Skift, a United spokesman confirmed the new training program and said “our inflight crew are effective ambassadors, who can best communicate to our customers in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card.”

Meanwhile American Airlines told Quartz that while their credit card program is an “important and profitable” part of their business model, participation is voluntary for flight attendants. “We have found that inflight is a great time to talk with our customers about airline credit cards,” a spokesman said. “They’re often thinking about their next trip while traveling and American Airline’s co-branded credit cards are a great way to get them closer to that next trip.”

This post has been updated with comment from American Airlines. Quartz has reached out to United and will update this post if they respond.