Why Am I Watching My Plane Touch Down?


Welcome to the Today in Travel Question of the Week. As always, you can submit a query below or via email.

Dear Carl,

Just got back from Barcelona, flying Iberia for the first time. They were so-so as int'l airlines go, but one thing we found interesting/disturbing was a camera affixed to the tail of the plane (I believe it was an A320), facing forward, which displayed on the in-plane TVs during takeoff and landing. Highlights included seeing exactly how much runway was left on takeoff from Madrid as well as watching us come in skewed to the runway in Boston, leveling out at the last second.

Have you seen/heard about this before? Just wondering how prevalent it is and if any customers have weighed in on it. I fly a fair amount and I found myself ambivalent on it.

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—Mike and Mo

Mike and Mo,

To answer your question, I put in an email to Patrick Smith, who writes the Ask the Pilot column for Salon.com. I've never heard of real-time flight video like you describe, but fortunately, Smith has (and just wrote his own column about it).

"A number of airlines already have such a feature, connected to the seat-back screens on their 777 or Airbus series aircraft" Smith says. "I've experienced it myself on at least two carriers—Air France and Emirates. On Emirates, the system allows you to switch back and forth between a nose view and one that points straight down, showing what the plane is passing over."

He also points out that no domestic carriers currently have cameras like this, though United does let serious aero-geeks (I use that term lovingly) listen in on the chatter between the cockpit and air traffic control.

Even so, in-flight cameras are neither a new idea nor a solely European phenomenon. "In the late 1970s," Smith says, "American Airlines had cameras in the cockpits of its DC-10s that would allow you to watch the crew performing takeoffs and landings. I remember seeing it a few times as a kid. How quaint the idea seems today. The footage was grainy, projected on the old-fashioned bulkhead movie screens."

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