If Elon Musk is to be believed, the future of air travel involves superfast flights on Big F–king Rockets, taking us from London to Tokyo in 37 minutes of chrome-clad comfort.
But we are disgusting monsters and that is not the future we deserve.
In our timeline, the aircraft of the future will be a flying nightmare tube, full of belching human meat sacks crammed cheek by jowl into rows of seats that record our every movement.
At least that’s the future that one Singapore Airlines passenger uncovered this week.
Twitter user Vitaly Kamluk shared a photo of what looked like a camera installed directly beneath the inflight entertainment screen on a Singapore Airlines aircraft.
Singapore Airlines replied that it was indeed a camera, embedded into the seat back by the original equipment manufacturers of the plane, but said the cameras had been disabled on its aircraft and ‘there are no plans to develop any features’ using them.
And I think we can all agree, if a camera is built into a device, it will always remain unused, always remain secure, and will never be used to capture footage.
Which is lucky because next time I’m flying the 23 hours it takes to get from Sydney to literally anywhere, I want to rest assured that my metal hotbox of an airplane isn’t recording my dumb face as I horf down questionable casserole, snore my way through three Mission Impossible films and then quietly sweat through the incubation period of that particularly virulent strain of gastro I picked up on my last Tokyo stopover.
Ever since the jet engine revolutionised flying in the ’60s, we’ve been sold an image of air travel as a high-flying world of luxury and dewy-faced women in pearls and twinsets staring wistfully out windows.
But the reality is anything but. It’s all pre-teens opening plastic packets of candy to work noisily around their retainer-clad maws. It’s mout -breathers hoiking their shoeless feet onto tray tables, wide-set passengers manspreading into your leg space, the smell of reheated stew served from a drum, the uneasy detente that follows 12 solid hours of silent fighting over an armrest.
And oh, the vomiting. The last time I took an international flight, the girl in the row opposite me hurled within 20 minutes of take-off. Her poor mother quietly wiped hot sick off her inflight entertainment screen, perhaps wondering why she wasn’t on some better flight to meet a fellow named Armando in Aruba.
If the airlines of the future want to capture this kind of footage — no doubt after pulling some sort of ‘sorry, not sorry’ when they eventually do activate the cameras — then have at it.
But you can bet that the ‘original equipment manufacturers’ who installed these cameras weren’t trying to meet a growing demand for seat-cam footage of tired plane passengers. We aren’t livestreamed entertainment in this grim, dystopian future: We are an audience to be marketed to, data to be mined and a captive set of eyeballs to be coerced.
Will the cabin crew be taking notes about whether seat 64B is watching the safety demonstration? Will the cameras track our gaze to see if we’re watching in-flight commercials? And what happens if we turn away?
Cameras are in our advertising billboards, in our smart home devices and on every second street corner, tracking our movements and slowly building up a picture of our lives in minute-by-minute real time. Add airplanes to the mix and you have a terrifying new way to calculate your social credit score. What happens on the way to Vegas doesn’t stay in the air.
Air travel is changing. But it’s going to be damn hard to replace visions of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Come Fly With Me’ with a 24-hour live stream of screaming children hurling box casserole into their seat-back camera.
Singapore Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.