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Best Picks – Airport Travel


We’ve talked about the ins and outs of how to travel through airport security with a GPS. But what about following along with a GPS while in the airplane? I’m on a trip right now where I’m not planning on doing any driving myself… I’m taking shuttles and local transportation. I wanted to bring a GPS along with me that would allow me to track my flight’s process, as well as give some very basic navigation while taking local transportation.

For this trip, I brought along with me a Garmin Forerunner. But first, let’s talk a little bit about using a GPS on an airplane.

Rule #1 Always comply with crew member instructions. Regardless of what the airline has for a policy regarding GPS, if a crew member asks you to turn it off…. turn it off.

Rule #2 Some airlines specifically mention GPS as being allowed, some specifically deny it. Check the back of the magazine in the pocket of the seat in front of you regarding what electronics are allowed, when.

Rule #3 If it has an on/off switch, it should be turned off whenever even “approved portable electronic devices” are prohibited– taxi, take-off, landing.

So why did I bring along the Garmin Forerunner? First, by having the form factor of a watch, it raises fewer eyebrows from fellow passengers and crew. Not that you are trying to hide anything if you are following the airline’s rules, but I’d rather not make the passengers near me curious or nervous about what I’m doing.

Second, at least the model I used is powered by the almighty SiRFstarIII processor which will really help… Getting a GPS signal in an aluminum tube can be challenging. You will certainly want a window seat, and if you want to be a real GPS geek, go for a seat on the South side of the plane if you are in North America to get additional accuracy from the WAAS satellite.

A third reason is shear size. I like to travel light, and the Forerunner is tiny as far as GPS devices go. The watch form factor also eliminates me from needing to hold a GPS in my hand for the entire flight.

Finally, it is now compatible with the ‘Send to GPS’ function from Google maps. Go to Google maps, search for the airports you will be traveling through, and send their locations to the GPS. Also search for and send the locations of any hotels, meeting locations, and attractions you want to visit to the GPS. Then you can create a route from your current position to the next airport, and follow along with your GPS. I even send the coordinates of a geocache from geocaching.com direct to the GPS. The cache isn’t far from one of my meeting locations, so I’ll see how well I can geocache using just the forerunner… should work just fine.

It is really fun to see the Forerunner display elevation, maximum speed, current speed, distance traveled, distance to the airport, and record a tracklog of the airplane’s path.

Despite taking local transportation on this trip, I was able to monitor how far I was from my destinations so I wouldn’t miss my stop, and to give me a general picture of the area.

No, it doesn’t include street map detail, but that wasn’t necessary for my trip. But for some very basic in-city navigation, (monitoring, really) following the progress of the flights I was on, being incredibly easy to pack, and possibly even take on a geocache, the Garmin Forerunner was the perfect GPS for this trip.

2 Responses

  1. I also used my forerunner 401 in flight from sardinia to belgium a couple of times. I only wish I has it with me while in Africa, since the location of some pictures I took isn’t clear-cut on my panoramio account. Too bad.

    What I’d really love is a software able to grab a series of pictures, a gps log/track, and then pair the pictures with the position at the same time (or the closest one recorded). This would be geotagging without having to use the often crappy cameras in GPS-able smartphones. Also because sensitivity of my nokia 5800 is much poorer than my forerunner.

    luca - March 7th, 2009
    • There are a number of software packages out there (some even freeware) that will take a tracklog from a GPS, typically in GPX format, and match the locations up with a folder of photos and geocode the photos based on the timestamps. If you search the net for “geotagging” software using terms like geotag, geotagging, photos, tracklog– you should find some software like what you describe.

      Tim - March 7th, 2009

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