Last week, without any fanfare, United Airlines updated its app. No big deal, right? Well this new update includes a flight simulator game! We played it. And while it’s no Microsoft Flight Simulator, for an app-within-an-app it’s pretty great.

Flying the friendly (virtual) skies

Once you get your app updated, you hit the “More” button on the bottom tab, go to the Game Center at the bottom of the “For your flight” section … and voila there it is, sitting next to Sudoku.

The game puts you in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the skies above San Francisco — the only plane and setting the game offers (for now). But the terrain graphics are solid and the aircraft model itself looks great. The game starts with a set of tutorials, which get you used to the controls. You pitch and roll by tilting and angling your phone. As the tutorials progress you can take control of the throttle, flaps, and landing gear as well.

All of the simulations are landings, but the variety of approaches, times of day, and weather conditions including wind and fog provide some variety. The default view is from inside the cockpit through a HUD, though you can also station yourself outside the plane.

Three Royal Air Maroc Boeings caught while PlaneSpotting in Casablanca. Note the Mohammad V Airport sign in the background.
Three Royal Air Maroc Boeings caught while PlaneSpotting in Casablanca. Note the Mohammed V Airport sign atop the terminal in the background.

Last month I found myself with a full-day layover in Casablanca, Morocco. I was on my way to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to cover Royal Air Maroc’s oneworld celebration. My flight from JFK arrived mid-morning and the ABJ flight wouldn’t depart until late evening. Armed with this knowledge, I had a jam-packed, prearranged agenda which included PlaneSpotting in Casablanca. For a relatively small airline like RAM, this was a chance to see all of the airline’s fleet types in the same place at the same time. Exciting!

PlaneSpotting in Casablanca, up close and air-side

A RAM 787-9.
CN-RGY, the 787-9 which brought me to Casablanca from New York

They take aviation security very seriously in Morocco, perhaps to an extreme. In order to get my planespotting in Casablanca tour arranged there was a lengthy vetting process. Required were a certificate of liability insurance, various forms of ID, and an inventory of my photography gear for consideration by various authorities to include the Moroccan Ministry of Communication. Even with various governmental pre-authorizations in hand it seemed a challenge to convince the airport’s badging office to issue my day credentials. After some back and forth between my various escorts and airport operations folks I received a temp badge in exchange for my passport. This collateral effectively ruled out any opportunity of an airport badge souvenir.

Tailwind uses a two-year-old Cessna 208B amphibious aircraft on the route from New York Skyports Seaplane Base to Boston Harbor

Tailwind uses a two-year-old Cessna 208B amphibious aircraft on the route from New York Skyports Seaplane Base to Boston Harbor

Tailwind Air isn’t an average commuter airline. There are definitely similarities to Seattle’s Kenmore Air, in that both fly seaplanes and do charters through some of the world’s busiest airspace, but Tailwind Air positions itself as a boutique service for the time-pressed Northeastern traveler.

Along with saving time, the flight offers some pretty amazing scenery – the Empire State Building is on the right

This is their math: it takes at least four hours to cover the 200 road miles between Manhattan and Boston by rail or car, depending on traffic or service delays. By air, it’s consistently less than 90 minutes. And far more comfortable and glamorous.

Our flight was on Friday, March 5, 2022, which marked the airline’s annual resumption of service on the route – the flight doesn’t operate in the winter months.

The flight from Manhattan to Boston took 70 minutes thanks to a helpful tailwind, although we paid for that by having to fight the corresponding headwind on the way back, so that leg took 90 minutes. Considering it’s taken me 90 minutes to drive the length of Manhattan in Friday afternoon traffic, this flight is a wonderful option.