As part of a promised $140m investment in new technology, Delta Air Lines has developed an iPad app that gives passengers a bird’s-eye view of the ground under their plane.The “Glass Bottom Jet” app feeds real-time data of your flight position into maps and satellite imagery of the surrounding area. It then combines that information with the destination guides, photographs and social-media gizmos for which travel websites are more commonly known.
The app does not use live footage, and it obliges you to pay for Delta’s in-flight Wi-Fi service. But it still seems a nifty evolution of the moving-map systems that have been around since 1982. Tnooz, a travel technology website, explains its appeal:
“Dubbed Glass Bottom Jet, the in-app feature allows users connected to in-flight WiFi above 10,000 feet to track their flight’s progress while also exploring the landscape beneath them via Wikipedia articles, social media updates and other points-of-interest …
While this sort of functionality has been pioneered by other apps such as WindowSeat, FlightAware, FlightTrackPro, etc, it’s a good sign that an airline is thinking of providing value across the entire lifecycle rather than simply providing features that boost the bottom line. Other legacy airlines should take note.”
Beyond the obvious gimmicky appeal, Delta’s app has some practical advantages. Maps on the backs of seats are as fallible as they are dull. Last year British Airways apologised for its “confusing” in-flight map after the system identified the Kent village of Stansted (home to 400 people) as a major landmark, overlooking its more famous namesake in Essex: London Stansted Airport.
In 2009, bmi found itself in hot water when the mapping software aboard two of its Airbus A320s—acquired from British Mediterranean Airways, which flew mainly to Arab destinations—wiped Israel off the map. It displayed just one landmark in the Jewish state, Haifa, which it referred to by the city’s Arab name, Khefa. Both hiccups could have been avoided if passengers had control of real-time maps.
Enabling interaction with flight-mapping data is a natural evolution for the airline industry, akin to the switchover from analogue television to on-demand digital programming. But in the context of in-flight entertainment (IFE), it has a deeper significance.
A diverse range of airlines now see computer tablets as a preferable alternative to back-seat devices. Air Baltic, Air Nigeria, American Airlines, Iceland Express, Jetstar, Thai Airways, Virgin Australia and WestJet are among the carriers signing up to tablet-based IFE. Though Delta’s app falls short of such a strategic move, it is yet another reason why the days of back-seat televisions are numbered.
Click here to subscribe to The Economist
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.