I won't mince words with you, Hutchins. Your "St. Louis: Red, White & Blues!" article is good. Damn good. I'm reminded of a young me so many years ago, pecking out an inspired look at Scotland's 10 best golf courses. Yes, I know your article would more than pass muster at most magazines. But this isn't most magazines. This is Delta Sky, the best in-flight magazine there is. So the question remains: Your article is good, but is it Delta Sky good?

Please do not be offended by my questioning of your work. I only seek to hold this article up to the highest journalistic standards. It is my job to continually ask: Is it informative enough? Is it entertaining enough? Does the writing possess that elusive, essential quality all great in-flight writing has, that quality that can only be called "breeziness"?

Does the paragraph on St. Louis' unique love affair with its sports teams flow into the one about the city's thriving jazz scene? Should the section about the Arch be expanded? Does the sidebar on the Anheuser-Busch factory tour complement or detract from the main article? As the editor of Delta Sky, I have no choice but to obsess over these matters. It's my job. Second-best might be good enough for the hacks over at United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine, but around here, we expect more.

You see, Hutchins, over the years, Delta Sky has come to represent a standard of journalistic excellence the other in-flight magazines have tried and failed to equal. Commuters, vacationers, and business travelers alike have come to expect better than the best from us, and, by God, that's what we give them each month. If we have to work 80-hour weeks to dot every "i" and cross every "t," well, that's just the price of quality.

Put yourself in the place of America's airline customers. How would you feel if you spent $500 to cab it to the airport, haul your luggage around a long security line, and spend five hours crammed into a metal tube where the only available reading material is some poorly written article about the sun-dappled coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula? Pretty ripped-off, I'd say.

That's why we do everything we can to offer the finest in-flight journalism ever. Articles like regular contributor Mary Billard's "Quick Summer Slimdowns" in the May issue. Articles like managing editor Michael Foss' "The Golden Age Of Television" in the current one. Articles like the upcoming "Oreo's 90th Birthday" piece that I've been losing sleep over for the past two months.

It's a sign of your talent, Hutchins, that you've already made it this far in the in-flight game. I've had many a greenhorn come to me with some barely coherent "America's Most Romantic Getaways" piece. And each time, I pointed him or her toward United Airlines, where they eat that shit with mustard.

But you, Hutchins, have "It." You've got that elusive, hard-to-define quality that all the great ones possess. You know how to draw the traveler into an article and sustain his interest. I sensed you had the stirrings of genius within you when you first pitched me your "Remembering The '57 Chevy" piece those many months ago. And, of course, you have the good journalist's knack for finding that perfect topic. "San Francisco's Best Seafood Restaurants"? I tip my hat to you. Look for that one to win big at the Tray Table Awards next year.

In fact, it's precisely because of your obvious promise that I am so hard on you. Your gifts are prodigious, but they are not enough. You need to take that raw talent of yours and mold it until you have truly mastered your craft. Who knows? Perhaps someday, in 20 or 30 years, you could find yourself the editor of this magazine. Not that you'd necessarily want that job. Editing's a harsh mistress, kiddo: Sometimes, I don't know whether the magazine is killing me or if it's the only thing keeping me alive. But when you put that issue to bed, and you know it's the best goddamn in-flight magazine anyone will read that month, you feel like the proverbial warrior lying on the field of battle, exhausted and victorious. There is no better feeling.

Just between you, me, and the wall, Hammacher-Schlemmer has expressed interest in a monthly eight-page catalog insert in the Sky Mall section. That's the league we're starting to play in. It's time to hunker down, Hutchins. We can't afford to rest on our laurels. That's the mistake American Airlines made 12 years ago, after their "Charlton Heston's Holy Land" cover story was such a huge hit. They started believing their own hype and now, well, you've read American Way lately, haven't you? It's an absolute fucking joke.