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Experience: A Mesmerizing 3D Map of World Flights

Experience: A Mesmerizing 3D Map of World Flights

Do you know how many flights journey each day? A lot.

If you only take civil aviation, one can estimate 115,000 flights per day on average this year.

Want to see how it actually looks like? Callum Prentice has created a really cool visualization of those around the globe. In 3D. And which you can play with (amazing use of WebGL!)

Transatlantic streams.

Transatlantic streams.

You won't probably find 115,000 flights as he has used data from OpenFlights, our app of the week on episode 005, which also means it's not real-time (though he admits would love to have that for v.2—here's the GitHub repository for those curious)

It doesn't matter to me, it remains mesmerizing. 

✈︎ LISTEN: OpenFlights is the App of the week (49:51)

✈︎ LISTEN: Short stories on innovation: visualizations and plane routes (56:35)

✈︎ Captain's hat tip to Gen Kanai

Airports Track Your Smartphone To Enhance Passenger Experience

Airports Track Your Smartphone To Enhance Passenger Experience

So last fall the company started testing new technology that allowed it to track customers’ movements by following the Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones.

The above quote isn't about an airport, but retailers. It was only a matter of time that this type of tracking technology was to be put of use in the airline industry though.

✈︎ LISTEN: The power of sensors for better airports (29:25)

Blip Systems has introduced such systems at various airports, from Amsterdam Schiphol to Geneva and they've publicized the results of the implementation at Cincinnati's CVG:

CVG initially partnered with Purdue University in 2011 for technology proof-of-concept testing prior to research and acquisition of BlipTrack. The Purdue team returned in 2014 to quantify the security wait time improvements in the reconfigured terminal and the impact of the new pre-check lanes:
·  In comparison to standard wait times in 2011, wait times were reduced by nearly 4¼ minutes in 2014 (from 13.2 minutes to 8.9 minutes).
·  In comparison to standard screening wait times, TSA pre-check saved more than 26,000 person hours in wait time over Nov-Dec 2014.

With the poor experience that is security in most airports (I've never been to CVG to judge that one in particular), this is a pretty cool result.

Orderly and civil. (image credit:  Blip Systems )

Orderly and civil. (image credit: Blip Systems)

How does this tracking work? Unlike iBeacons-based systems that would only cover the last generations of smartphones, the idea is to track the MAC address that every phone connected to Wifi gives out (think of it as a unique identifier, the Media Access Control address, that interfaces your phone with the network). With that information in hand, the airport can map out the movements of passengers (like foot traffic of a store like the quote refers to at the beginning of this post) and assess if flows need improvement, or, at least, give some real-time information on how backed up an immigration queue or TSA check-point is—which is what CVG does.


Estimote, a YC startup that offers iBeacon solutions, was providing such a system at their inception when I met them in Poland back in 2011. Whilst a bit baffled at first ("you can track me without my knowledge with such precision?"), I began to understand all the possibilities that this could offer, some sort of Google Analytics for Real Life.

No, I hadn't thought of queue management, but airports are one of the only place where, to simplify, a provider knows pretty much when its customers will arrive in its premises (you have to clear check-in and security) in which they'll have to stay for a defined period of time. Having the ability to understand how they move around, what are the heat maps within existing constraints, what are the usual patterns, etc. opens the door to a lot of design thinking opportunities.

With an estimated 81% of passengers carrying a smartphone compared to 25% five years ago, according to SITA's report The Future is Personal, and with a renewal rate of roughly 18 months, there's no denying the appeal of such technologies for airports, much much cheaper than the traditional camera-based ones big retailers have been using. And Blip doesn't limit the idea to the usual pain points, see for yourself:

The waiting-time journey.

The waiting-time journey.

iBeacon-based solutions are also taking off, Miami International has deployed it throughout its terminals, for instance. Frankfurt Airport uses those low-energy bluetooth beacons to notify travelers of the real-time waiting times at various checkpoints.

✈︎ LISTEN: The new Frankfurt Airport app gives real-time waiting time information and faster indoor routes (29:44)

None of this comes without challenges though. Tracking is not something that we take lightly, even if it's for our convenience. First, ask anyone around you and there's a probability they'll be much more creeped out by the idea of being physically tracked than via an online cookie. And then, whilst a MAC address isn't enough to find much about the owner of the device, the same smartphone signing up into the airport wifi network with an email address could be the start of profiling.

European airports apparently warn passengers of the existence of such a technology—though I must admit having never personally seen any notice (I travel to GVA every six weeks and will be at FRA shortly, I'll take a closer look).

Intrusive or not, the convenience effect could be undeniable. Knowing in advance and in real-time the state of waiting times is an undeniable plus. Having airports re-think their sometimes absurd layouts is what I hope for the most though.

Watch: TEDx Talk On How To Fix Travel

Watch: TEDx Talk On How To Fix Travel

And you’re not going to see an airline selling standing room only or tickets to sit on someone else’s lap …expect maybe Ryanair.

Come on, this was too funny not to start this article with. Don't worry, Doug Lansky is not about trashing airlines here. His talk is not really about airlines at all, but I found it nevertheless very interesting (and what a great public speaker too).

In a very entertaining TEDx keynote, he shows what's broken about destination travel today. And for the most part, I couldn't help but agree (I won't spoil it for you, you've got to watch below).

Smart decision based on smart data (image credit: TEDx Stockholm, TEDx Talks)

Smart decision based on smart data (image credit: TEDx Stockholm, TEDx Talks)

Near the end (at 15:57 exactly) Lansky envisions solutions, one of which reminded me of what Alex and I talked in our latest podcast episode: the power of displaying data when booking.

We obviously were talking about Google Flight's integration of aircraft amenity data, but he's taking it a step further: what if the search would also tell you if a destination is full (as in, there will be so many people that your experience will not be the postcard you were sold). 

This idea retains supply and demand, but allows for a smarter travel decision based on smart data. Appealing indeed.

Watch the entire speech below:

✈︎ Listen: Imagine the power of data that Google could add on its Flights product (at 38:30)

Emirates' Position on Subsidies: A Smart Answer

Emirates' Position on Subsidies: A Smart Answer

The release of the White Paper by the U.S. airlines accusing the Gulf airlines of anti-competitive behavior has spurred many reactions that we've covered in our recent podcast episodes.

Emirates showed once more that its taking a smart approach by releasing a well-document paper on its position, which is summarized below:


Tim Clark is currently in Washington, meeting with US transport officials to tackle the claims that subsidies have funded Emirates' growth.

There are a lot of quotables in the report, showing, as Alex mentioned in our last podcast episode, that it is directed at a general public (the U.S. airlines White Paper is much drier).

Here are some extracts—the full report is at the end of the post.

On the subsidies (all emphasis ours):

Although Emirates, as a profitable and commercially run carrier, is fundamentally against the practice of airlines receiving state subsidies, we understand that it may take time for the practice to be wholly eliminated from our industry.

Market-distorting subsidies can take many forms. The state-run Korea Development Bank froze 3.76 trillion Korean Won (US$3.3bn) worth of debts from Asiana Airlines in 2010. This is a very clear example of subsidy, as was the €500 million “bride price” given to Austrian Airlines from the Austrian Government, prior to the September 2009 takeover by Lufthansa.
Tax breaks, underwritten war risk insurance and “one time” state-bank loans are forms of subsidy, even if “approved” by governments.

Although not a subsidy per se, Chapter 11 protection in the US also has a significant market effect, by providing a level of protection for airline bankruptcy reorganisation that is seldom found in other markets.

The Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline group and 13 of its carriers - nearly half of its membership - have received subsidies and state aid totaling more than €6.8 billion.

On Dubai's form of economy:

Dubai’s corporate model has its origins in the city’s historic position as an entrepôt, which has free trade and competitive open markets at its core. Whilst there is a close relationship between the government and many of Dubai’s strategic commercial entities, Dubai is at its essence driven by commercial entrepreneurial principles.

Each commercial entity is an independent company with its own profit targets and operational autonomy, including Emirates and Dubai Airports. These corporate structures were pioneered by Singapore, and replicated by similar approaches throughout Asia, such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Singapore’s success has provided inspiration for many governments in the Middle East hoping to spur growth

On oil:

The Gulf region is not a single entity. Dubai has almost no hydrocarbon reserves while the situation is vastly different in oil wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. So why would the airlines from these areas all be the same?

Emirates itself is at a disadvantage compared with Singapore Airlines, which has lower relative labour costs and can also take advantage of Singapore’s status as a jet fuel refining hub, where the price of a barrel of jet fuel is the lowest in the world.

Adding: This is a commercial reality. Emirates has no qualms about this and is happy to compete in this operating environment.

On the Middle-East:

In truth, there are more than 35 separate airlines in the Middle East which compete against each other and against carriers based in other regions. In the Gulf there are 15 airlines, including a growing number focused on budget travel.


Dubai International ranked as the fifth costliest airport, more expensive than charges in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Doha.

Vienna Airport was government held for 50 years until its partial privatisation in the 1990s; it is now 40% state controlled. A similar history is found at Munich and Frankfurt. Frankfurt Airport (Fraport) is now 51% controlled by the German regional and city government (with Lufthansa owning 10%, and private investors holding the rest). For the first five decades of its existence, however, it was fully government owned.

Lufthansa is an example of European carriers making loud claims about airport ownership
in Dubai and the Gulf, despite themselves continuing to benefit from state-funding of airports. In April 2011, the European Commission opened an investigation into Leipzig-Halle airport, which received €225 million in funding for infrastructure from its state owners, making charges lower than would be the case if the airport had to fund the improvements at market rates. Lufthansa, operating around 30% of all flights from the airport, has benefitted the most from this public funding.

On jobs:

more than 8,600 current staff have served for 10 years or longer and in excess of 2,100 have been with the company for 20 years or more. Emirates receives on average 25,000 new employment applications each month.

Emirates itself is at a disadvantage compared with Singapore Airlines, which has lower relative labour costs

That last graphic is quite staggering. No wonder Lufthansa is in a period of struggle with its staff, with its attempts to offload operations to its low cost structure, Eurowings. It would have been interesting to see where Turkish, a flag-carrier in the middle of a transformation, is ranked (estimates say that it has costs 30% cheaper that Lufthansa).

✈︎ LISTEN: the history of Lufthansa and its low cost PLAY:

The report also briefly talks about the environment with the EU system of pollution allowance (a stricter law was so opposed by the U.S. airlines that they lobbied President Obama into writing legislation excluding them to pay ever—which in turn made the EU back down on the proposal).

All in all, a smart answer, in addition to the video targeted at Europe they recently published.

Of note, Tim Clark has stated that Emirates would seek all options for redress if any commercial damage could be established. 

The full report can be read over at It's embedded at the end of this post for your convenience.

We've discussed this report in the News of the Week of episode 008 of the podcast:

The full Emirates paper:

Watch Nicole Kidman Promote Etihad

Watch Nicole Kidman Promote Etihad

The war of words that has started since the major U.S. airlines went on the offensive about the Gulf airlines seemingly had one side effect.

Beyond the rhetoric, both Emirates and Etihad have ramped up their communication. Is it just a result of the turmoil or was it planned beforehand, I wouldn't know, but it's certain that we've all seen many more ads online by these two.

Etihad has gone very upscale by hiring Nicole Kidman as their brand ambassador.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 1.28.24 PM.png
I don't think anyone also reflects elegance and flair as well as Nicole Kidman does

says the airline president and CEO, Hogan.

Here's the full ad:

It's truly a full on campaign, as their YouTube channel attests, with a flurry of new videos describing the experience passengers can expect.

As I noted during our latest podcast episode, Etihad is introducing the ABU - JFK route with the A380 and its Residence (where Kidman is sitting) on December 1. The first flight was sold out in less than 4 hours (!)

If you have 40 minutes, you can watch the entire launch interview with Kidman too:

A Ghost Airport Is Revived in Spain, Another Is Just for Top Gear

A Ghost Airport Is Revived in Spain, Another Is Just for Top Gear

Ryanair is set to become the first airline to operate scheduled flights from the Spanish “ghost airport” of Castellón.

The Irish carrier will announce plans on Wednesday to fly from the airport, which cost €150m (£107m) to build but stood empty for almost four years and is widely regarded as a symbol of regional governments’ profligacy during Spain’s long-gone property boom.

As Alex mentioned in our last podcast episode, an airport built with the wrong runway measurements (the planes couldn't turn!), without fuel stations (what?!) and no operational future (besides serving the local football team) has finally found life.

Oh, and it has a statue that cost 300,000 EUR (Alex likes it, I'm not so sure I do).

El Hombre Avion (image credit: Sanbec / Wikimedia Commons)

El Hombre Avion (image credit: Sanbec / Wikimedia Commons)

A white elephant. A folly. An electoral promise (the man responsible is serving time for tax fraud). A target of the Spanish press as it encapsulates everything that has been wrong (their words) with Spain in the last decade.

Seeing the news, I remembered that Top Gear ran fast cars on an abandoned runway in Season 20 episode 3. 

I assumed it was the same airport but boy I was wrong. It's actually a different one, Ciudad Real Central Airport, which apparently cost more no less than 1 billion EUR. Another folly.

That one had Ryanair flying for 6 months but is now completely abandoned and looking for a buyer. If you have 80m EUR to spare—though Alex proposed that it becomes a HQ for Layovers. I like the idea.

We start episode 008 with a discussion about it all:

KLM Fire: Do You Protect Your Carry-on Batteries?

KLM Fire: Do You Protect Your Carry-on Batteries?

The chances that you are carrying lithium-ion batteries with you when flying are very high. They're everywhere, from mobile phones to laptops or cameras. 

Although very safe, they've been known to have created issues in the past, which is why airlines forbid you to check any in cargo.

Look at what happened during a recent KLM flight:

Battery on fire. (image credit:  @Accone)

Battery on fire. (image credit: @Accone)

It caught fire!

Whilst this remains an extremely rare occurrence, what do the airlines say specifically? Here's KLM's take:

Loose lithium batteries, such as rechargeable lithium batteries and AA lithium batteries for laptops and DVD players, may only be carried in hand baggage. Each spare battery must be packed in the original packaging. If you no longer have this packaging, you must cover the battery contact points with tape to insulate them and pack each battery in a separate plastic bag.

We don't have control of the batteries installed within our personal electronic devices but the rule on the extra ones (a second camera battery or a smartphone external battery for instance) is clear: we should put them in their original packaging or tape the contact points whilst placing each one in a separate plastic bag.

Do you do that? As Alex said during our last podcast episode, anybody who says they do is probably a liar.

And yet, look at the video:

No wonder they are now forbidden in cargo (thus also heavily restricted by postal services by air).

On a related note, similar batteries were the ones that were responsible for the fires that grounded the 787 Dreamliners. 

✈︎ LISTEN: A battery causes fire during a KLM flight (51:38)