No travelers, I hope, have ever used an airline map - found on posters, advertising and in-flight magazines - to actually find their way around.
Airline-service maps aren’t much good for navigation. But the maps, which have been produced for about a century, are often quite beautiful.
The art form is wonderfully displayed in a new book, “Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design.”
The book, by authors Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts, tells the story of the development of the airline map, and, along the way, incidentally charts the history of 20th-century graphic design, Roberts said.
I spoke to Roberts from his home in the seaside town of Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, England, which, I would confidently guess, has never shown up on an airline map.
A lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, Roberts also maintains tubemapcentral.com, a website devoted to transit maps.
Roberts, 53, said he began collecting maps of the London Underground subway system as a child, and then became fascinated with maps of other such systems around the world and the way the maps all differed.
He and Ovenden, 56, a design historian and author who lives in Manchester, England, first started discussing a possible book about airline maps in 2014, Roberts said.
In addition to researching the collections of various archives around the world, “I’ve also visited several European countries for ephemera and collectors’ fairs to see what is available,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Roberts began recognizing the distinctive styles of the maps produced by various airlines, he said.
“For instance, Imperial Airways, the forerunner to British Airways, started creating subway-map-style diagrams in the 1930s, which became a feature of all their maps.
“Air France, in the ’30s, had sumptuous posters with striking art deco designs.”
Many of the maps in the new book are from airlines long - or not so long - gone, such as Western Air Express, Pan Am or budget airline Buzz.
The maps were first designed to promote not only the individual airlines, but also air travel itself, when flying was still a novelty. Later, the maps staked out the airlines’ “territories,” emphasizing the multiplicity of destinations served over areas vast or small.
But even the most recent still seem eager to depict the romance inherent in quickly traveling to new destinations a long way away - or, at least, in visiting those exotic locales by map.
Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SteveStephens.