Technology in the Skies: Airline Uses Linux

Singapore Airlines is now flying some new aircrafts in the SFO-Singapore sector. These aircrafts appear to be a a little more spacious and better designed. For instance, the acrobatics needed to shut the bathroom doors has been reduced significantly. At the back of the aircraft the staff has a U-shaped area where they can hang out and chit-chat with their colleagues without having to get in the way of passengers hurrying to the toilet. The passage way and the leg room has also been increased a “delta”.

The TV screens in front of each passenger is much larger. You no longer have to strain your eyes on those miniature screens. However, the most daring use of technology was what goes behind the TV screens. What you see is actually a PC running Redhat Linux. At the first screen you have an option to use the system simply to watch films, TV etc. or to use it as a PC. Next to the screen is a USB port and a LAN port! (Does the airline expect passengers to be carrying a wires?) I suspect that Internet access might be available through the LAN. (Emirate Airlines actually offers wireless access). In any case, I plugged in a USB stick and surprise, surprise, I had StarOffice(!!) to edit my MS-Office files if I wished to (thank you very much!). Sounds like Singapore Airlines is firmly in the anti-Microsoft camp.

Here is the bad news. The UI of the entire system is far from idiot-proof. At least on a couple of occasions the screen froze while attempting to navigate the various options. But thankfully the Steward could go behind the scenes and reset the system. This also means you have the pleasure of seeing the entire boot up sequence. Ideally these screens should have a touch screen UI because most passengers struggle to navigate these complicated systems. I can’t remember a flight where I haven’t had to assist a fellow passenger with using these systems. So much for the use of technology.

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