Jetblue in the goldfish bowl

Well, it finally happened. Passengers on the JetBlue A320 that landed with a cocked nosewheel in America yesterday were able to watch live TV coverage of themselves during virtually the whole incident. Fittingly enough this quintessentially 21st century event took place in the entertainment capital of the world - Los Angeles.

For sheer in-flight weirdness this probably exceeds even the September 1995 incident in which passengers on a Northwest Airlines DC-10 watched in bemusement on seatback maps as the aircraft flew to Brussels and landed instead of Frankfurt as planned, with the pilots, who had no access to the seatback system, essentially lost.

On JetBlue, passengers were watching themselves courtesy of the seatback LiveTV service – a satellited-based system which the airline itself operates through a wholly-owned subsidiary that it was forced to acquire to prevent its probable commercial failure three years ago.

Staff of NBC television who happened to be on the aircraft reported that the system was switched off only 3-4 minutes before landing, along with other electrical systems. So it seems that JetBlue doesn’t share the concerns of other airlines who have long insisted that news progamming provided on board aircraft is doctored to remove anxiety-inducing coverage of aviation safety.

In Europe, BMI of the UK and TAP of Portugal are about to trial on-board mobile phone access, which will also enable Blackberrys and similar devices to function, and will mean that precious little happens on aircraft that isn’t reported in near realtime to the rest of the world. And Connexion by Boeing already gives users full internet functionality – including the ability to post public messages and operate blogs like this one - from in the air. Camera-enabled phones and digital cameras complete the link – it’s seems only a matter of time before on-board images of a catastrophe end up on the web.

Leaving aside the philosophical implications of this, it means business has changed forever for the airlines. I’m giving a presentation to airline PR officials in a couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to discussing this turn of events. They’re going to need all the help they can get working out their disaster management strategies for the future. 

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