the view from here

Somewhere over northeastern Canada, about to fly over Quebec. Gin and tonic at 35,000 feet, 535 miles per hour with a 25mph headwind, -70 degrees Fahrenheit outside the cabin. After three failed attempts to show us movies — Catch Me If You Can, The Recruit, and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, each of which plagued by what appeared to be VCR tracking problems — Delta has decided to show us instead the flight data that has become de rigeur during airline trips. You get altitude, travelling speed, headwind, temperature. You also get a computer generated map with an icon representing the plane at the head of a red line representing your flightpath so far. An interesting example of “re-purposing” data that has certainly always been available to the pilots.

What does Delta think the appeal of this data is for the passengers? A friend once told me that he heard Benedict Anderson describe maps as an attempt to view the world from God’s point of view. Is that what the monitors are showing us? Interestingly, it’s not a view or a representation of the ground from the plane, but a view from well above the plane, enabling a kind of dislocation as we imagine ourselves out of body, out of cabin, somewhere in space, perhaps. From the plane, the view out the window is beautiful but somewhat generic: fluffy white clouds below with hints of the land underneath, sunny blue sky above. We could be almost anywhere, a dislocation that is only strengthened by the feeling of timelessness that comes with crossing so many time zones. By contrast, the digitally mapped representation on the monitor locates us firmly on, or above, the globe.

Composed on the plane about 11:00 a.m. EST, June 8. Posted on June 9.

Print Friendly

3 thoughts on “the view from here

  1. Really like the Benedict Anderson observation. I think that’s why I found maps and globes to be so interesting when I was younger. That sense of timelessness or dislocation is one of the more interesting aspcets of flying. And consider yourself *very* lucky that you didn’t have to endure “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days!”

  2. hi, george. welcome back.
    here’s an odd perspective on the trip-tracking screen. i hate flying. paradoxically, i thrive on any kind of information i can get about how planes fly, how fast they go, what sort of aircraft i’m on at the moment, “incident” statistics, etc. i can tell the difference between a 757 and a 737 from the ground. i’m a target market for the discovery wings channel, and i read salon’s ask the pilot column all the time.
    last year, i flew from d.c. to johannesburg by way of frankfurt. all told, something like a 40 hour round trip. the little A340 on the headrest screen, information that serves little material purpose for most, was a sort of palliative. i have been told that a majority of flying adults are at least moderately nervous about the ol’ 500mph at 38,000 feet. the little screen means things are under control. …helps me.
    of course, as you say, so does the gin.

  3. Chuck, Yes, I was glad to see “How to Lose a Guy…” stop after only half an hour or so. Ugh. They finally did get a tape of “Daredevil” to work.
    Dave, Having observed passenger behavior in airport bars at 9 in the morning, I can believe that the majority of adults aren’t so keen on flying.

Comments are closed.