Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I was grounded for 2 weeks for passport renewal and another week with a sprained foot, but I'm back on the road again. I seem to notice new things when they're not in front of my all of the time. One thing I noticed this trip is how stupid the flight map software on the plane seems to be getting. Before, it was pretty simple and had all of the important information. Time to destination, time at destination, etc. Now (at least on United) they've added a stupid trivia quiz among other things. It takes longer for it to page through all of the pages to get to the page you want to see. The most distressing thing is that they've removed "time at destination" but seem to think "outside temperature" when you're flying is more important.

To the designers of this software: I only watch the map page to get information. If I had time to be doing a trivia quiz I would be listening to music, watching a movie or working on my laptop. Also, NO ONE that I know of cares what the temperature is outside when you're flying but almost EVERYONE I know cares what time it is at the destination.


Joi... I fully agree with you on this with the amount of flying I use to do for work. The flight map is the one of the most important things on a long journey. But the most important is the as you said Time at / to Destination and where you are in the flight.

I'm surprised you missed this, Joi. Obviously, it's a zen thing, designed to keep you engaged in the moment, rather than constantly thinking about the future. Rather than focusing on where you will be and what you will be doing, the zen flightmap forces you to concentrate on where you are, to be present in the moment, locked in a metal tube 10 kilometers above the earth, protected from subzero temperatures by nothing but the plane's thin aluminum skin. The perpetual reminder that the outside temperature is -53C is an affirmation of your own fragile existence in the face of mortality. Ask not when the plane will land - ask, "how can I be most present in this moment"?

Or ask the stewardess for another whisky and coke. That always works for me.

ethan. No.

I agree. Everyone's trying to turn everything into a game of one kind or another. The 'news' channels used a quiz gimmick right before a commercial to keep spellbound audiences glued to the Jew tube to hear the politically correct answer to the politically correct question.

Actually, those seemingly harmless quiz-trivia games are vehicles for advertising and PC propaganda more than anything else. Analyze them next time, and you'll see for yourself.

That's precisely what the Jeopardy! game show is mostly about: Spreading propaganda and advertising. The sheople think it's just a fun game, but it's so much more than that.

I think it depends on the airline, or even the flight. I've flown both JAL and Air Canada recently and they both had "time at destination". For the record, I personally care much more about outside temperature than time at destination, because I can use this information in conjunction with altitude to spend hours imagining what would happen to my body if the airplane were to disintegrate. And on the final approach, it gets more interesting because I can calculate the altitude at which I wouldn't suffocate, but would probably still get frostbite. Nothing else to do on these long flights...

I'd love to see a few more easy-to-calculate things, like "time in the air so far" and "total flight time". Maybe even "time at origin", which would be really great when you do serious time zone crossing like trans-Pacific journeys.

I've flown a good deal. Not as much as some, more than others. I think the time to landing isimportant, but other statistics could be fun as well.

I would like to know:
Time till landing.
Time till this plane runs out of fuel. - just for perspective.
Time since last in-flight happy hour -cause $5 is too much for whiskey.
Temperature outside.
Temperature inside.
Temperature at place of landing.
Temperature of me with or without the little scrap of fabric they call a blanket.

As for flight-map wouldn't be all that hard to make it at least less boring...

My favorite ould be a concurrent line that showed "if you were driving or sailing" routes to your destination, complete with time. Just so people apreciate flying again.

One feature on some flights I love is the camera showing on the aircraft belly just before landing.

A further improvement would be a live camera under the belly of the aircraft during the whole flight with a superimposed digital map.

A friend of mine, Gregory Dicum, wrote a fascinating book about understanding the landscape while flying.

Not only do I agree about needing to see time at destination, but the software that most airlines seem to use is graphically, and otherwise, pretty lame in comparison to systems available in the cockpit; and not just in comparison to those for civil aviation jets, but also for general aviation propellor aircraft that cost way less than a Boeing or Airbus. Surely with some imagination, and with the increasing incidence of WiFi in flight, each aircraft could have an intranet with things like the menu choices, the movies, the duty free, real time mapping, airline route maps etc. i.e. all the crap that's in the in flight magazine but done interactively and with imagination. The airlines could even learn how to monetise this to help pay for rising fuel costs and/or get their butts out of Chapter 11 ; ) Burt Reynolds allegedly once said that the way he relaunched his career was to have them show his movies in two places where people couldn't escape - prisons and airplanes. Captive audiences must be worth something.

I'm sorry that you had a bad experience with in-flight entertainment (IFE), Joi. Sometimes a new navigation system is upgraded in the cockpit, and it disrupts the information which passenger entertainment systems read. I believe that ARINC-429 on commercial aircraft is like RS-232 on PCs; you can't always read the data that you desire.

Anyhow, we're working on making in-flight entertainment lots better. It's also possible that someone simply removed the Time at Destination prompt. A quick call to the airline might go a long way in bringing that back.

I keep an in-flight entertainment blog over at This week's hot news is that RyanAir plans to roll-out in-flight gambling before year's end. Maybe United's in-flight trivia is just a warm-up for greater things to come!

It would also be helpful if they showed other planes and flying objects (unidentified or otherwise) on the map. If we're heading towards a flock of seagulls, I want to know in advance so I can get my camera ready.

definitely a flight camera is needed. i regularly fly over greenland and it's absolutely awsome. same goes for flight across the us, there are some amazing vistas.

but, my peeve with the maps is that they end up showing the darndest obscure towns. can't they just stick to major cities and landmarks?

oh, but, please no other objects on the screen, such as planes or sea gulls. it'd positively freak out the passengers. ;-)

Err.. Outside temperature is there because people want to know what the temperature is when they land. Granted, it's not that useful in the air, but when you land at your new destination, you want to know whether you need to put on a heavy coat or not.

The problem is that I have to stow the screen when I land so I'm not looking at the map when you hit the ground...

Some of the comments could be compiled into a wish-list for in-flight information systems for passengers. Maybe one of the companies making these systems would set up a wiki and tap into what frequent travellers would like to see. Personally, I would like to add to the list a pO2 readout so that one would know the partial oxygen pressure in the cabin at all times.
Ironically, I was reading your blog entry in Bahrain just before getting on a flight that showed another piece of information on their in-flight system - not mentioned yet despite the imagination apparent in the comments but I captured a photo of it:

In keeping with the topic let's play Politically Incorrect Trivia.

Trivia Category - Historical Revisionism

Two part question: Who is noted chemist Germar Rudolf, and why is he wanted by German authorities?

i like the temperature outside thing. you look at it, think oooh, that's cold, wow, oh, lucky i'm not out there, hoho, that's fucking cold, hoho, and then i'm happy.