Out Today: Airline Maps

Airline Maps

Out today: Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design (Particular Books/Penguin), Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts’s book about the history of the airline map—those maps showing where an airline flies that you often see in in-flight magazines.

Hundreds of images span a century of passenger flight, from the rudimentary trajectory of routes to the most intricately detailed birds-eye views of the land to be flown over. Advertisements for the first scheduled commercial passenger flights featured only a few destinations, with stunning views of the countryside and graphics of biplanes. As aviation took off, speed and mileage were trumpeted on bold posters featuring busy routes. Major airlines produced highly stylized illustrations of their global presence, establishing now-classic brands. With trendy and forward-looking designs, cartographers celebrated the coming together of different cultures and made the earth look ever smaller.

CityLab has an interview with Ovenden and Roberts about their book. One exchange stuck out:

But some of the maps in the book are really geometric and straightforward, like transit maps. I’m wondering, how are these airlines dealing with some of the problems of transit maps? For instance, how do you get a lot of lines to a central station, or a hub in terms of air travel?

Roberts: I’m not sure that they do. I’ve actually looked closely at a lot of these airline maps and tried to get my head around them, and actually some make no sense at all. They’re essentially unusable. And that’s the big irony with airline maps: Nobody’s ever used an airline map to plan a journey.

It seems to me that this is because airline maps aren’t transit maps, they’re pictorial maps. Pictorial maps were about promotion and decoration, not navigation.

Ovenden is known to us here at The Map Room: he’s published books about transit map design such as Transit Maps of the World (2007, updated 2015), Paris Underground (2009) and (Great) Railway Maps of the World (2012). Roberts is the author of Underground Maps After Beck (2005) and Underground Maps Unravelled (2017). Taking to the air is a bit of departure for both authors, then.

For another book on this subject, see Paul Jarvis’s Mapping the Airways, which came out in 2016 (previously).

Author: Jonathan Crowe

Jonathan Crowe blogs about maps at The Map Room. His nonfiction has been published by AE, The New York Review of Science Fiction, the Ottawa Citizen and Tor.com. His sf fanzine, Ecdysis, was a two-time Aurora Award finalist.