How to Ride on a Train (While Flying on a Plane)

British Airways has revealed the Turducken of in-flight entertainment. 
NRK

In November of 2009, the Norwegian channel NRK aired a seven-hour-long program called "The Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo." This title was, depending on your perspective, either delightfully descriptive or painfully literal: The show consisted of seven hours of footage shot from a train traveling on the country's Bergen rail line—rolling shots of the track-bound vehicle chugging through stations, careening across countryside, and darting under snow-capped mountains. The show was, as advertised, a Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo. And it attracted, in the end, more than 1.2 million viewers. Which was remarkable—especially considering that the entire population of Norway hovered, at the time, around 4.8 million.

Successes like that have become part of the lore of the "Slow TV" movement, whose programs replace storytelling with soothing scenes that play out in the longest of longform formats: fireplaces crackling (12 hours long), fingers knitting (eight hours), boats boating (379—yes, three hundred seventy-nine—hours). The genre has become such a cliche that on April Fools' Day, as you may recall, Netflix lampooned it by introducing original programming like "Sizzling Bacon." Which was 20 minutes of exactly what it sounds like. 

You could read the popularity of those "slow" shows as evidence of the ongoing ambience of TV, the idea that people are giving their programs an attention that is less intense, and more itinerant, than it once was. British Airways, however, has a different read. It is assuming that people watch those soporific shows to watch them—intently, as they would a (really, really boring) movie. And the airline is now, as such, including "Slow TV" among its offerings for in-flight entertainment. 

"BA flights," the Telegraph reports, "will now include a dedicated program of quiet, meandering television, with a screening of an entire seven-hour-long train journey from Bergen to Oslo." 

Meaning: Yep, that train journey. A journey that will feature, the Telegraph drily notes, "no commentary of events to liven things up." 

BA's move to "Slow TV" was partially inspired, apparently, by the popularity of the flight-tracking maps that are the default displays on so many seat-back screens. The ones that show the plane's progress over the surface of the Earth, as well as stats like outside temperature, plane speed, and time-to-destination. The ones that are attentionally akin to fires a-flaming and fingers a-knitting and bacon a-sizzling—story-less scenes that can be, in their weird way, mesmerizing.

The train-within-a-plane programming, explains Richard D’Cruze, BA's in-flight entertainment manager, can offer a soothing alternative to the typical in-flight film. You could watch that Robocop remake, sure ... but you could also watch a charming Norwegian wood spreading before you on your screen. "There’s definitely a hypnotic, calming and entertaining quality to 'Slow TV,'" D'Cruze says, "that is perfect for in-flight entertainment."

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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