Ever since a certain family member (who prefers that I not tell the details of his life on Ron’s View, so I’m leaving him nameless) went away to college years back, I found myself tracking his flights when he headed to school or back home. I still do it, sometimes texting gate info or other advice as he lands at intermediate stops. This weekend offered the ultimate tracking experience, thanks to his three-flight itinerary from Seattle to JFK to London Heathrow to Cape Town. What a journey!
Nothing too exotic about Friday’s first segment, one we’ve all flown many times. I didn’t start tracking until he was already over western Michigan, having just crossed Lake Michigan. Next time I looked, he was above northern New Jersey. I watched the plane make the usual big turn out over the Atlantic before heading back north to the barrier beaches of Long Island and into JFK. All home turf to me as a native Long Islander.
After a brief overnight stopover, he was off to London. By the time I awoke yesterday morning and thought to start tracking, the plane was approaching the southern coast of Ireland. Next look and he was in the west of England. The plane continued east, straight to the south of Heathrow, then made a circle southwards and back to the north, in for a landing I thought, only to turn to the east and south again, at which point FlightAware stopped tracking. Where did he go? I never did find out. It took over half an hour before Virgin Atlantic recorded the flight as landing.
Two hours later, he was embarked on the overnight, twelve-hour flight to Cape Town. The plane was, anyway. I had to hope he was on it. When I first took a look, he was over southern France. We headed out for a while, the fun beginning on our return.
I thought I knew the location of the world’s countries pretty well. Eastern Europe, the old USSR, the Stans? No problem. Asia? Under control. But Africa not so much, as it turns out.
The big country in northern Africa that he was flying over? Algeria. I know that one. But what about the big country to its southeast?
I should explain, as you can see above, that FlightAware draws in boundaries of countries, but doesn’t identify them.
I know Egypt and Libya in the northeast. I know that Sudan and Chad lie below them. But, um, what is that country just west of Chad? I took the screenshot above a few minutes ago, tracking tonight’s flight, not last night’s. And the plane happens to be right where it was last night when I was stumped.
Mali? Not quite. It’s Niger. Mali is to the west. Oh well.
Next I looked, the plane was over Gabon, just past the bend there on the Atlantic, but I struck out on that one too. Angola, the big guy farther south, was no problem. I finally went to bed as the plane was nearing Angola’s southern border, heading toward Namibia. I never did see it enter South Africa’s airspace. I awoke to learn that the plane landed on time, the family member’s journey over.
I better study up before his return flights.