From 35,000 feet the world can look disarmingly placid. And some things, like alien-looking pseudo-lasagna and in-flight magazines, always seem to work better in a plane. Bring them down to tarmac-level and you have, in the case of the latter, so many stacks of miniature printed Fantasylands.

You could start with the route maps at the back of most of the in-flights. Thumbing through the magazine of Air One, some kind of Italian airline, I noticed that while their routes are mainly European, they didn’t miss out on an opportunity to assign the Golan Heights a different color than Israel. Check out the Air France magazine’s map and you’d think, mistakenly, that all the world’s roads lead to Paris.

And then there’s Gulf Air’s magazine, Gulf Life. It feels crisp and sleek and is published by a company based in London. It is not very ecumenical, though that’s probably a reflection of Gulf Air, Bahrain’s flag carrier. For example, according to the mag, you can tune in to the Koran on Channel 8 and Comedy Central on Channel 12, or have your audiovisual chow in Hindi and Arabic, but the devout Presbyterian passenger is going to go a little hungry in that department.

Speaking of food, any chance of ordering a kosher meal on Gulf Air? If so, I didn’t see anything in the pages of Gulf Life about it. But there are other treats there, such as the inset map of France on the larger route map, which indicates there is Gulf Air codeshare with SNCF, the French railway system. It looks like there are non-stops from Bahrain to Nairobi, which could explain the picture of a large and irate black panther on the magazine’s cover this month.

New services! If you’re looking to spend a long weekend in Tehran, Shiraz or Isfahan, you’re in luck, because now Gulf Air can take you where EL AL, even in a technicolor parallel travel universe, cannot. This is a good way to start accruing those Falconflyer points. (btw Falconflyer…does sound a lot cooler than Matmid.)

Inside there’s a good but short article on Kahlil Gibran. A profile of a BBC Middle East editor, a feature on Mumbai and an interview with a a very cool-looking Arab hip hop music producer and DJ, something about Beirut. Oh yeah and the thing about panthers — because black cats never go out of style (well, they don’t).

What’s that refreshing flash of green? Not absinthe, unfortunately, just an advertisement for Malaysia, the country that touts itself as “Truly Asia” but that could also be considered Truly Offensive for denying entry to Israeli passport holders. There is also an ad for the Best Western Orchid Hotel in Riyadh. Whatever positive attributes it may have, the hotel looks about as appealing as the hotel in Newark, New Jersey I fled to on Sept. 11, 2001 after the police wouldn’t let me into my own apartment (Note to Best Western decorator: you never put just one plant in a lobby).

In the back of the book, to help you make the most of Bahrain, there’s a condensed version of TimeOut Bahrain. Maybe TimeOut Israel…no, that’s another story.

But speaking of Israel, Gulf Life doesn’t. Not in the features well and certainly not on the route map. Zilch. Of course, few people in London would have a problem with that, and up in the clouds it’s like whatever, just feed me and fly. Back on the ground though, the reality of willful omission is a little less amusing. It’s a kind of distortion, with glossy paper and ink.







GA’s not alone: in-flight mags present a necessarily twisted sort of world view. Photo: Athens.