Direction of Travel is a newspaper about airline maps and the culture of flying. It’s a love letter to the rich visual history of flying. Our captain for this flight is Christian Nolle.
Where does your fascination with airline maps come from and what prompted you to set up Direction of Travel?
I have made a number of projects about flying. I once mapped London’s airspace by bike and I have also been working on a photography project in and around the villages that surround Heathrow airport for many years. Alongside this I have been collecting airline maps. Initially, I stumbled upon them on eBay and over the years I slowly started assembling more of a collection, airline by airline. I liked the graphic quality of them and the stories they contained, many from the “golden age” of flying but I didn’t want them just to stack up in my studio. I was looking to share them in some format, make them more accessible and the newspaper format seemed like an obvious fit.
How have you gone about unearthing and tracking down these maps?
That has involved a lot of digging, patience and considerable time spent on eBay and similar sites. I’ve visited a number of airlines and explored their collections, which has been an eye opener.
The death of the in-flight magazine, accelerated by the pandemic, heralds the end of the printed route map – does this essentially make you a design archivist? Where does beautiful and dreamy design exist in the world of aircraft carriers in 2023?
There are still a few printed route maps left. There is a beautiful map inside Air Canada’s inflight magazine, but mostly route maps are now a thing of the past. Airlines change their network all the time, especially after the pandemic, which means that by the time a route map might go to print it will already be outdated. I like to think that Direction of Travel is an archive and a cultural project about flying.
When looking at designs such as ‘The Routes of my Jet Carpet’ for Air India back in 1958, there are so many parallels with the type of design applied to city guide maps we are accustomed to now. What other connections or modified executions of design between past and present have you observed?
Projections and their varied use is another map component that we now see more of and even though these have been around forever. I definitely think airline maps have played a role here. Japan Airlines, for instance, made a map that had the north pole at the centre, with their routes circling around it. American Airlines had an early map where Chicago was the center of their universe and so forth. It used to be that making maps and changing their projections was reserved for specialists, but I suspect we will see much more of that in the future as it becomes easier to accomplish.
Can you tell us about Good Caesar, your design and technology studio? Can you tell us about some of the work it is doing in the aviation realm?
At Good Caesar we build digital products for clients, from portfolio to interactive maps. Alongside our client work we also develop and maintain a number of our own projects. In 2020 we launched one of the first flight search engines to rank journeys based on their carbon emissions, Lite.Flights (Worst timing ever, as the world stopped flying). We have also made a map that charts all known aircraft stowaways since 1946. These are people who have hidden inside the wheel bay of an aircraft to flee a country. Most of these journeys have ended tragically. Then last year we re-launched a site that monitors and predicts air traffic over London called Planes Over London. There is definitely, as you can see, a rather large overlap between the two.
What are your travel plans for 2023? Dream route? Best flight to date?
I have a young family so travel is somewhat restricted but I am hoping to be back in New York later this year and potentially an Asia trip too. My personal dream trip would be the Sydney to Johannesburg flight that Qantas operates. It’s the route that flies further south, some days within touching distance of Antarctica.
Have you looked into or considered our national carrier Aer Lingus for a future edition?
I have a few Aer Lingus items but would love to include them one way or another, potentially together with a few other smaller European airlines.
Which airline excites you most in terms of their overall design identity and iterations of it?
Air France is an airline that has consistently had a very high design standard. All their maps, magazines, print ephemera has evolved over time of course but has always been inventive and consistent. Today you can still find their old logo from the 1930s, the winged seahorse, on the winglet of their latest aircraft. That’s pretty fantastic.
Vol. 5: Aeroflot meets Pan Am and back issues, £13.