If Elon Musk is to be believed, the future of air traffic will be super fast flights on Big F – king Rockets, which will take us comfortably dressed in 37 minutes from London to Tokyo from Chicago.
But we are not disgusting monsters and that is not the future we deserve. In our timeline, the aircraft of the future will be a flying nightmare snake, full of bursts of human flesh bags, crammed on the cheek by throats in rows of seats that record every movement.
At least that is the future that a Singapore Airlines passenger has discovered this week.
Twitter user Vitaly Kamluk has shared a photo of what looked like a camera installed directly under the entertainment screen on board a Singapore Airlines plane. Singapore Airlines replied that it was indeed a camera embedded in the backrest by the aircraft’s original equipment manufacturers, but said the cameras were turned off in their aircraft and “there are no plans to develop functions” with the help of them.
And I think we all agree, if a camera is built into a device, it will always remain unused, always safe, and never used to capture images. This is fortunate, because the next time I have the 23 hours it takes to get from Sydney to fly everywhere, I want to make sure that my metal hot box from an airplane does not record my stupid face while dubious casserole, snore my way through three Mission Impossible films and then quietly sweat through the incubation period of that particularly virulent strain of gastro that I picked up during my last Tokyo stopover.
Since the jet engine revolutionized flying in the 1960s, we have sold an image of air travel as a high-flying world of luxury and dew-covered women in pearls and twinsets staring melancholy from the windows. But the reality is anything but. They are all pre-teens who open plastic packets of sweets to work noisily around their covered slippers. They are mead-breathing that hoard their shoeless feet on tray tables, wide-ranging passengers who transfer into your legroom, the smell of warmed stew served on a drum, the uncomfortable detente that follows 12 solid hours of silent fighting over an armrest. And oh, it broke.
The last time I took an international flight, the girl in the line in front of me swung within 20 minutes of the start. Her poor mother quietly wiped her entertainment screen sickly and maybe wondered why she wasn’t on a better flight to meet a colleague named Armando in Aruba. If the airlines of the future want to capture this kind of footage – no doubt after putting on some sort of ‘sorry, not sorry’ when they finally activate the cameras – then they have it. But you can be sure that the original equipment manufacturers who installed these cameras did not try to meet a growing demand for seat camera shots of tired aircraft passengers. We are not live stream entertainment in this grim, dystopian future: we are an audience to be marketed, data to be mined and a set of eyeballs to be enforced.
Will cabin crew take notes whether seat 64B is watching the safety demonstration? Will the cameras follow our gaze to see if we watch commercials during the flight? And what happens when we turn away?
Cameras are located in our billboards, in our smart devices for home use and on every second street corner, follow our movements and slowly build an image of our lives in minute-by-minute in real time.
Add planes to the mix and you have a terrifying new way to calculate your social credit score. What happens on the way to Vegas is not in the air. Air travel changes.
But it will be damn hard to replace visions of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Come Fly With Me’ with a 24-hour live stream of screaming kids hurling the cashier in their back camera. Singapore Airlines did not respond immediately to a request for comment.