Map of the flat Earth

The flat Earth, do planes prove the plane?

You may have noticed a lot of videos posted on You Tube recently about the subject of the flat Earth. This isn't a joke and the posters aren't kidding, nor are these parody videos. One fairly well known video attempts to use flights on airliners to make the point. It is titled "The Earth is FLAT ~The planes help to prove the plane" and it relies primarily on pointing out that certain airline flights don't exist. An argument based on something that doesn't exist is weak at best, and in this case it is vacuous.

There are many reasons why a nonstop flight doesn't exist between point A and point B. Some areas of the world are less populated and some are poorer, and poor people can't afford as many flights. Whatever the reason some departure points and destinations just aren't as popular as others and if there aren't enough people willing to buy tickets, there won't be any nonstop commercial flights between those places. You can't take a nonstop flight from Santiago to Johannesburg but you can take a nonstop there from São Paulo and although there is no nonstop flight from São Paulo to Sydney or Auckland, you can get nonstop flights to both of those places from Santiago.

In short, you cannot reasonably infer anything about the shape of the Earth from imaginary airline flights that don't exist, but we may learn something about the shape of the Earth by looking at real airline flights which actually do exist.

Map of the flat Earth
Map of the flat Earth
Great circle map centered on Santiago
Great circle map centered on Santiago

Using a google search for nonstop flights we find that we can fly from Santiago to Sydney in 14 hours 10 minutes. On the map of the flat Earth, above, left, this looks like a really long flight which would pass over Mexico and the U.S. on the way to Sydney. We find that nonstop from Santiago to Paris takes almost as long, 13h 55m, but on the map of the flat Earth this looks to be only about half the distance! A nonstop from Santiago to Dallas takes 10h 5m, that's 29% shorter than the flight to Sydney, but according to the map of the flat Earth, it should be 65% shorter! A nonstop from Santiago to New York City takes 10H 35m but if a flight to sydney takes 14h 10m than a flight to NYC should take only 5h 16m! Note that a flight from Santiago to Auckland, New Zealand takes 13h 10m. There is no nonstop from Santiago to Johannesburg, South Arica but a nonstop from São Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg takes only 8H 50m. According to the map of the flat Earth that trip should be 25% longer than the flight from Santiago to Paris which takes almost 14 hours!

On the other hand, if we look at the map above, to the right, a Great Circle Map centered on Santiago, we see that the relative lengths of the lines plotting these trips on this map correspond closely with the relative flight times. In other words, the flight times make perfect sense on this map! So, is it possible that the Earth really is flat, but that the flat Earthers got it wrong? Could the GCM centered on Santiago be the true shape of the Earth?

The actual flight times on available flights certainly seem to support this theory! How can we test it further? Let's look at flights from a different location, in a completely different part of the world, Tokyo, Japan.

Great Circle Map centered on Santiago, Chile
Great Circle Map centered on Santiago, Chile
Great circle map centered on Tokyo, Japan
Great circle map centered on Tokyo, Japan

There are no nonstop flights available between Tokyo and Santiago, but a nonstop flight from Tokyo to Sydney takes 9h 35m. A nonstop flight to San Francisco takes slightly less time, 9h 20m. If we look at the GCM centered on Santiago, shown above to the left, we see that the flight to San Franciso should be 71% shorter so if it takes 9h 33m to get to Sydney, it should take only 2h 47m to get to San Francisco! A nonstop flight to Dallas takes 11h 40m and a nonstop flight to Mexico city takes 12h 25m. According to the GCM centered Santiago, both of those flights should be significantly SHORTER not longer! We can see, then, that for plotting flights from Tokyo a GCM centered on Santiago is every bit as worthless as the map of the flat Earth.

If, on the other hand, we look at the GCM centered on Tokyo, above, to the right, we see that these flight times make perfect sense. How can this be? Why would plotting accurate flight paths for different parts of the world require a Great Circle Map centered on the point you're flying from? If the Earth is flat, shouldn't a single map, representing the true shape of the Earth, work for all locations?
The answer is quite simple:

The Earth is round!
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Technically, the Earth is a somewhat flattened sphere with a prominent equitorial bulge. But for most purposes showing the Earth as a perfect sphere is good enough. You're probably thinking, "yes, but the Earth also has bumps, called mountains" (or something to that effect). While these do, indeed, exist they aren't as significant as you might think. The World's tallest mountain is 5.5 miles above sea level. The diameter of the Earth is 7917.5 miles. So the distance, going straight through the Earth of two points at sea level on opposite sides of the Earth would be 1440 times the height of Mount Everest!

This means that those bumpy relief map globes that let you feel the mountians which fascinated you as a child are greatly exaggerated. If they were made to scale, the height of mount Everest would be less than the depths of the troughs between the ridges that make your finger prints! Even on a 14 inch globe, the height of Mount Everest would be only 1/4 of a millimeter!

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