(CNN) — Picture the scene: You’re on board a flight, and the view out of the window is stunning. You spot towering mountains and glistening blue lakes.
You snap an Instagram photo, but when it comes to selecting a location tag, you realize you’ve no idea where you are.
Free to download in its basic version, the app uses airplane-tracking technology to keep fliers up to date with their live journey.
Unlike the seat-back maps often installed in inflight entertainment systems, which only offer basic information on location, speed and altitude, Inflighto enhances the experience with precise tracking, points of interest and, in premium versions, live weather info.
It does, however, require users to hook their mobile device up to the airplane’s Wi-Fi, which can sometimes be a costly option.
The app’s creators, Australian pilots John Hopkins and Christopher Smyth, say current airline mapping is inadequate for true aviation enthusiasts.
Hopkins who came up with the Inflighto concept after realizing that the No. 1 question he got asked by passengers was “what did we just fly over?”
“They’ve seen something out the window that’s piqued their interest, the only way for them to find out is really sending a message through the cabin crew who knock on the cockpit door and have to ask the captain or the first officer what it was they flew over few minutes ago,” explains Smyth.
He and Hopkins thought the app could also be a way for the pilot to communicate directly with the passengers.
Inflighto’s creators have developed a new communication channel between pilot and passenger.
“We realized the PA system is pretty limiting for pilots who see a lot of interesting things out the cockpit window and might want to let passengers know that they’re about to fly over something of interest, or perhaps there’s a great Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis display, out the window,” adds Smyth.
“It might be an inconvenient time during the flight when most of the cabin are asleep or watching movies. The flight crew probably don’t want to disturb everyone to let them know there’s something to look at out the window.”
Inflighto’s screen looks a little like Google Maps. Flight paths are highlighted, as are points of interest, tourist destinations and events information. Clicking on them leads to a relevant Wikipedia page.
It’s interface is easy to use and eye catching.
Users search for their flight via its number and are directed to a landing page where they can learn more about what’s happening underneath their airplane.
The app also includes an in-flight chat option, alongside live marine vessel tracking and weather radar.
There’s a chat facility that can create better communications channel between pilot and passenger — but also allows friends and family tracking a flight from the ground to check in on passengers.
For pilots to participate, they need to have the app installed on their phones.
“It’s early days for Inflighto in-flight chat and although the engagement figures are very promising, we don’t know exactly who’s using it because, at this stage, it requires no log-in or sign-up,” explains Smyth.
But the creators are optimistic about the success of the chat feature. They’re also discussing with airlines the possibility of formalized partnerships.
“We also plan to pursue opportunities with a number of pilots active on Instagram who enjoy sharing their flying experience more widely,” adds Smyth.
The app’s weather function was designed to reassure and prepare nervous fliers.
“There can be some anxiety with some passengers around turbulence and weather that you fly through,” explains Smyth.
“The technology existed to tap into the very advanced weather radar systems that meteorology have around the world and we knew that we could tap into that and get live satellite images and live weather radar into our app.”
Features like the weather radar take passengers outside of the realms of the cabin to get a 360-degree view of the flight as a whole.
“The whole ethos of the app, the whole philosophy behind it is to help passengers re-engage with flying,” says Smyth. “We think that there’s a disconnect with passengers and their flying experience, and we’re really passionate about flying ourselves.”
Changing plane habits
Inflighto’s creators think personal devices are the future of in-flight entertainment, not built-in screens.
The app’s creators say it’s reliance on inflight Wi-Fi isn’t a problem thanks to widespread availability on modern aircraft.
Smyth adds that the app could be increasingly useful as airlines shift the burden of providing inflight entertainment to passengers’ mobile devices.
“The airlines themselves aren’t really interested in putting screens in the back of seats any-more, because as soon as they’ve installed a screen, it’s obsolete,” says Smyth. “They really want to move to a paradigm where people are bringing their own devices and they don’t have to pay for it.”
Our smart phones and tablets have better technological capabilities than these airplane screens, explains the pilot. That’s the way forward.
Smyth and Hopkins hope the app will continue to grow and develop:
“Certainly the sky’s the limit, if you’ll excuse the pun — we’re into the long haul,” says Smyth. “What we think is a really exciting opportunity to reinvigorate in-flight entertainment. I guess we think we are reinvigorating it, reimagining it, disrupting the existing paradigm there of being beholden to what’s in the seat pack in front of you.”
The Inflighto app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play as a free download. To access premium features including weather radar and in-flight chat users can access paid upgrades: “Premium Economy” is $0.99 a month/$6.99 a year. For all features, access “Business Class” for $2.99 a month/$28.49 a year.