Points, miles, and snide remarks.


AA Award Map Shows Offensive Names for European Capitals

UPDATE: It has been pointed out by some Reddit users (and confirmed by me) that Los Angeles is now showing the R-word.

American Airlines’ Award Map tool has become an essential resource for travelers seeking to book award flights. However, users are noticing something unusual tonight: some European capitals are appearing with incorrect and offensive names.

If you zoom in and out at very specific levels, you’ll see London listed as “Allahu Akbar,” and Paris labeled with a term referring to male anatomy. It’s worth noting that while “Allahu Akbar” isn’t inherently an offensive term, one can safely assume whoever uploaded this edit likely didn’t do so with good intentions.

Offensive names shown on AA Award Map in place of European capitals (C) 2024 Points & PDBs

Now before we start staging boycotts of AA, let’s examine the facts. As an IT professional, I can tell you this isn’t a direct failure of American Airlines. The tool relies on data from OpenStreetMap, a community-driven geographic database similar to Wikipedia (but for mapping!), where edits can be made by volunteers – in fact, Wikipedia features OpenStreetMap data within many articles, and you can log in to edit OpenStreetMap with your Wikipedia credentials! I went straight to the source to confirm that OSM was showing the same data, and sure enough, there it was, clear as day.

Right from the source… (C) 2024 Points & PDBs

OpenStreetMap’s open-source nature allows for this kind of mischief, and while AA has been caught in the crossfire, I wouldn’t point fingers directly at the airline in this instance. That said, one has to question the wisdom in using mapping data sourced from the general public (and editable at any time!) on a production, public-facing tool. That, to me, just seems like asking for trouble. Even when I was a student at Oklahoma State, publicly-editable sources like Wikipedia were never acceptable to cite in one’s own work, due to the possibility of inaccuracies. Pony up & partner with a more professional source such as ArcGIS, where the data can’t just be edited by anyone with an Internet connection.

All that said, I’d hate to be on AA’s PR team tonight…

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