Posts Tagged ‘britishairways’

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.


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)

At The Airport, Not All QR Codes Are Created Equal

Another day, another flight, another addition to the ever growing and increasingly arcane number of steps that you need to go through in order to get through an airport and actually take off on a plane. I’ve written before on the world of airport security, be it having your bags X-Rayed or searched and on engaging flight-safe mode on your mobile phone/tablet/e-book reader/laptop.

Last week, flying from London Heathrow to Berlin’s Tegel airport I found a new addition to the increasingly detached-from-reality world of airline security … the electronic boarding pass. In principle, the electronic boarding pass is a great idea. First introduced in 1999 by Alaska Airways, checking into your flight online and putting a QR code on a graphic of your boarding pass cuts down queueing and waiting at the airport. Some airlines either send you the boarding pass as an SMS message, as an email attachment or as a time limited web URL. Some airlines provide an app on your phone; British Airways falls into this category and their app covers Windows Phone 7, iOS, Android and Blackberry.

With this in mind, consider the following electronic boarding pass, taken from last week’s flight.

Berlin Boarding Pass - Original

This boarding pass gets checked three times between the time I arrive at the airport and the time my posterior makes contact with seat 11C. The first time is at security when the QR code gets scanned; if the QR code is valid, I’m granted access to the airside part of the terminal at Heathrow, but my passport isn’t checked so as long as the QR code says it’s valid, I’m through. The second time is at the gate. Again, the QR code is scanned and this time it’s cross checked with my passport; so not only is the boarding pass valid, but I can prove that the name on my passport and the name on the boarding pass matches. The third and final time, is when I actually board the plane and the cabin crew visually check that the boarding pass is actually for that flight.

Now consider this version of the boarding pass. The QR code is able to be scanned and it contains exactly the same information as the previous one. It will get me through the first two boarding pass checks but apparently it won’t allow me onto the aircraft. Why? When boarding last week’s flight the member of the cabin crew who checked my boarding pass told me she needed to “scroll your phone” and “check that your boarding pass isn’t a photo“. the underlying assertion here being that if I wasn’t using a boarding pass on BA’s own mobile app, I couldn’t board the flight.

Berlin Boarding Pass - Copy

If your eyes are crossing from concentration at this point, you’re not alone. I still haven’t been able to comprehend what the difference is between a valid QR code, which is itself a graphic image, in BA’s mobile app and a screen shot of the QR code, which is, err, a graphic image. I have an even harder time comprehending how this makes the theatre of airline security any safer for me or for my fellow passengers.

Written and posted from Theresa Avenue, Campbell, California (37.2654, -121.9643)

The BA Mobile Boarding Pass; So Right And Yet So Wrong

While boarding passes on your mobile handset have been around for a while in one form or another, I only came across them just over a year ago while flying on KLM from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. The system was quick, easy and worked, even though some of the staff at Schipol seemed a bit confused by me whipping out my mobile when they asked for my boarding pass, rather than the conventional printed boarding pass. At the time, I wondered when British Airways would follow suit. Now more than a year later, they have. Now to be fair, this system may have been in place for a while, but if it was it escaped me. Maybe I missed an email or some junk mail about this, but the first I heard of it when when I saw that the BA app on my iPhone had a new version and after some poking around to see what was new I saw the option for a mobile boarding pass.

KLM Mobile Boarding Pass

I fly on British Airways almost every week. While they may be the self proclaimed World’s Favourite Airline, they’re not the best there is. But flying British Airways means I get to fly out of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, by far the best terminal at that airport. It means I get to use the BA lounges, thanks to BA’s frequent flyer program. It means I get to fly direct to most destinations rather than having to change flights. So I fly BA most of the time.

So I’m a fan of the BA mobile boarding pass. It’s quick, simple and like KLM’s version, it works. But just compare the two airline’s version of the mobile boarding pass experience.

KLM has taken a very low barrier to entry approach; their version works with pretty much any phone capable of either receiving an MMS text message or capable of receiving a URL to the boarding pass which can then be downloaded over the phone’s data connection. That’s it. If you’re flying KLM and have a smart phone you can use KLM’s mobile boarding pass. If you have a feature phone, you may still be able to use KLM’s mobile boarding pass as basic smartphone functionality gradually gets introduced to the feature phone market.

BA Mobile Boarding Pass

British Airways has taken a somewhat different approach. You can only use the mobile boarding pass on an iPhone or on a Blackberry (though an Android version is promised soon). If you have a handset from another manufacturer or another phone OS then you can’t use the service. Even if you have one of the approved handsets the service is still only available to passengers who are members of BA’s Executive Club frequent flyer program. If you don’t fly that often or don’t want the possibility for more junk mail through your mailbox, then you can’t use the service.

I’m still a fan of BA’s mobile boarding pass, even though it’s only available on short hail flights to Europe at the time of writing. BA may state that “the days of pockets full of paper are nearly over“, but only for a very small percentage of their passengers who have the right phone and who are Executive Club members … and that seems to be missing the whole point about why you’d actually want and use a mobile boarding pass, which is to reduce the amount of paper you need to carry and offer the service to the widest number of passengers you can.

Update: 17/11/10 – the Android version of the BA mobile app just updated itself on my Nexus One and now contains support for mobile boarding passes.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Flight Safe Mode; The Sequel

This is mercifully brief follow up to my previous post on British Airways proscriptions on enabling flight safe mode on your mobile phone and hails jointly from the departments of “be careful what you ask for, it might come true” and “they didn’t really mean to say that … did they?” …

On this morning’s flight from London Heathrow to Berlin’s Tegel the usual flight safety announcement was made, but with a couple of significant, if contradictory, changes.


All electrical devices should be switched off during take off, landing and when the engines are running, some devices may be used after take off, please see High Life magazine for more information. If your mobile phone has a flight safe mode, it should be enabled now, before switching off the device and ensuring it is stowed in an overhead locker“.

We’ll leave aside for one moment that I’m pretty sure the engines are running during the flight so are we allowed to use flight safe enabled mobiles at all or not? But are we now not even trusted to have a switched off mobile phone in our pocket anymore and it has to be out of reach in the overhead locker?

Normal geo-related bloggage service will be resumed soon. Promise.

Written and posted from the Hotel Mercure An Der Charite in Berlin (52.530429, 13.381361)

Flight Safe Mode

As part of the security and safety announcement that gets made each time you get onto a plane these days, there’s invariably a bit which goes something like this … “all electrical equipment should be switched off during taxiing, take off and landing and all devices with a flight safe mode should have this enabled now“.

This makes sense; in the case of an emergency, the airline wants you concentrating on the emergency, not your laptop or your phone. It may also be the case that the phone may in some way interfere with the flight systems. Opinion on this is divided but the former seems a more realistic option than the latter.

The bit about the flight safe mode is certainly the case with Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and KLM, all of which I’ve flown with of recent. But British Airways seems to be taking this one step beyond, now insisting that not only do you switch things off but for mobiles, you enable flight safe mode and then switch it off as well into the bargain.


Isn’t this taking things just a bit too far in the name of safety? It’s called flight safe mode for a reason. It’s safe. For flights. How much further will BA take this? “Please engage flight safe mode, switch the phone off, take the battery out and then, after placing the device on the floor, smash it with your heel and place the fragments in the bag provided taking care not to injure yourself“.

Photo Credits: Camilo Rueda Lopez on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Mental Note to Self

I’d been told that the lesser spotted flight upgrade does happen. But despite travelling the Heathrow to San Francisco route on British Airways roughly once every three months for the best part of four years, despite knowing at least three members of the BA cabin crew who put me down on the upgrade list (but no promises, it’s at the discretion of the Captain you know) and despite frequently travelling with a colleague whose best friend is not only a pilot but a BA pilot, the elusive upgrade had never happened. Until today.

The BA Club World Experience

So what have I learnt from the experience? Firstly that Club World on BA is very, very, nice. Now nice is a much abused and cliched word but Club World is the sort of nice that makes me ponder what the rarified heights of First Class are like; nice staff, nice food, nice wine (Cline Cellars “Ancient Vines” 2007 Zinfandel plus three other red choices and four white choices if you’re interested), just … nice. Secondly that the seats (which put themselves into all sorts of configurations, from bolt upright to totally flat on your back and all points in between, at the touch of a button) are a world apart from the BA World Traveller Plus seats (AKA premium economy) that I’m used to.

On Board Power

But first and foremost, the lesson I’ve learnt is that Club World seats have power sockets. Proper power sockets. Power sockets that actually charge a laptop. Not an airline seat power outlet that needs a special adaptor, but a proper, plug it in, power socket. Which for some reason takes US power adaptors not UK. This could have meant disaster; good as the battery life is on my MacBook Pro it’s not up to some 9 and a half hours of usage including PowerPoint deck wrangling and watching a movie or two. But luckily the day was saved by a nice lady in a BA uniform who rummaged in her personal luggage (which isn’t a euphemism by the way) and loaned me her own UK/US adaptor for the duration of the flight. Now that’s service in my book.

But mental note to self … upgrades do happen so sticking a US power adaptor in your hand baggage next time is probably a good idea.

Written on BA 285, somewhere between LHR (51.47245, -0.45293) and SFO (37.61476, -122.39178) and posted from Chateau Bell, Campbell CA (37.2655445, -121.963743).