Skift Take

The airline and media worlds have changed remarkably since Skift Airline Weekly published its first issue in 2004. Here we take a look at how we started and what the future might hold.

Skift Airline Weekly is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, and we’re taking a look through the archives to see how the airline world has changed, and how the newsletter has helped to keep the industry informed along the way.

Here, founder and analyst Jay Shabat reflects on how the publication started in 2004 when it was called just Airline Weekly, and how it established itself in the airline media landscape.

The first Airline Weekly issue is at the bottom of the post, years before the 2018 purchase of the newsletter by Skift. Current Skift Airline Weekly Editor Madhu Unnikrishnan spoke with Shabat about the newsletter’s trajectory and growing influence over the years. An edited version of that conversation follows.

Madhu Unnikrishnan: What gave you the idea to launch Airline Weekly, and where were you?

Jay Shabat: I first started thinking about doing an airline newsletter while working as an analyst at US Airways in the late 1990s. Our communication team would put together clippings of all the industry-related news each day, which I enjoyed reading. I was also fortunate enough to work around several colleagues who taught me a lot about how the airline business worked.

Unnikrishnan: How did you decide what to cover, and what do you think differentiated Airline Weekly from the other airline-industry publications at the time?

Shabat: There were certain topics I knew we wouldn’t cover, such as cargo, or engineering, or maintenance. I just never learned enough about these areas. Covering earnings was always a major focus. Certainty the basics like who’s flying where with what planes. In general, I think of my job as just reading and learning as much as possible every week, and then organizing the information in a way that’s most informative, taking special care to identify new trends that might be emerging.

Unnikrishnan: When did Seth Kaplan and Jason Cottrell join you, and how did you split up the duties?

Shabat: They joined very early on, so essentially from the beginning. There really wasn’t much of an Airline Weekly before that. Seth and Jason were responsible for developing Airline Weekly into a true business. As a small company, we all did a little bit of everything, but I focused mostly on content. Seth and Jason had certain areas of expertise though and made important contributions to the content as well.

Unnikrishnan: Airline Weekly was always a “virtual” office. Do you think you could have launched the publication before you did? How did technology advancements improve the publication?

Shabat: There’s no way it would have been possible without the abundance of information now freely available via the internet. Imagine how long it would take to calculate each airline’s financial results if they weren’t readily available online. Personally, the most important advancement was probably the text-to-audio software I use, which allows me to listen to hours and hours of reports, articles, studies, etc. at an accelerated speed.

Unnikrishnan: When did you realize Airline Weekly had “made it”?

Shabat: The first year or two was really tough. I had graduate school loans and didn’t really have any income. So in conjunction with Airline Weekly’s launch I took a second job teaching airline management and English at an aviation school in China, where they provided housing and food (and health insurance). Eventually, we built up a sizable subscriber base.

Unnikrishnan: Skift acquired Airline Weekly last year. Looking to the next 15 years, how do you think the partnership will make the publication even stronger?

Shabat: On its own, Airline Weekly lacked the resources to go beyond what it was. It’s now able to benefit from the substantial resources and talent that Skift brings. We now have an excellent design team, for example, and Skift professionals contributing in areas like editing, technology, and customer service. I look forward to the things we can do together to make Skift Airline Weekly truly stand out.

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Photo credit: Skift Airline Weekly celebraties its 15th anniversary in June, 2019. r.o.sander / Visual Hunt

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