Bad Cartography – Stansted, Essex (Airport) vs. Stansted, Kent (Not An Airport)

If there’s one thing that stands out more than a map that says “you are here”, it’s a map that says “you are here” and seems to get the map wrong.

It has to be said, short haul European flights are a bit on the boring side. Once you’ve read the day’s newspaper, had a drink and a snack and read a few chapters of a book there’s not much else to do. Most airlines that hop between European destinations don’t have inflight wifi yet and there’s no inflight entertainment to be had, except to watch your progress towards your destination on the map that appears on the screen over your head.

So it was with this map, which was snapped on a flight a few days ago from Rome’s Fiumicino airport to London’s Heathrow was coming to a close. But there’s something wrong with this map.

stansted

London has three major airports, of which Heathrow is the only one that’s anywhere near Central London. The other two, Gatwick and Stansted, are out in the so called Home Counties, in Sussex and in Essex respectively. But that’s not what the inflight map seems to show. Or does it? The map seems to show that we were flying directly over Stansted but that somehow London’s third airport had mysteriously been moved from the north east of London to south of the River Thames, somewhere south of Gravesend.

My gut reaction was that the inflight map was just wrong. But the clue to this in all in the name Stansted (and not Stanstead as it’s commonly misspelt). There is indeed a Stansted (a small village notable for a lack of airport) in Kent as well as a Stansted (and an airport) in Essex.

All of which makes me wonder just what the map’s cartographers were thinking when they thought to put the village of Stansted, with a population of around 200, on an inflight map and with seemingly equal billing with some of the UK’s major cities and manage to confuse it with a major UK airport. This isn’t a recent map slip up either, as Wikipedia reports that this has been in place since 2007.

In early 2007, British Airways mistakenly used inflight ‘skymaps’ that relocated Stanstead Airport, Essex to Stansted in Kent. Skymaps show passengers their location, but the mistake was luckily not replicated on the pilots’ navigation system. BA blamed outside contractors hired to make the map. “It was the mistake of the independent company that produced the software,” said a spokeswoman. “The cartographer appears to have confused the vast Essex airport, which handles 25 million passengers a year, with this tiny Kent village, also called Stansted, which has a population of around 200″.

Time for a refresh of British Airway’s inflight maps I think.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

2 Comments

  • It’s about BA or the airlines, it’s the plane manufacturers who put the maps on. Kenya Airways has horrendous (read Boeing) maps. Malaysian is alright (read: Airbus) but frankly not that much better.

  • On a related note, I spent some of my delightful childhood growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina (or “Fayettenam” as it is affectionately known). Once went to the airport and saw a woman arrive who thought she had flown to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a mere 1000 miles away. Good times.