When our founder launched FlightAware in 2005, he wanted to provide a tool for fellow pilots and AV geeks to track live flights (at the time, there was no publicly available way of doing so). I don’t think he ever guessed 12 years later, we would be tracking sharks on our maps—but that’s exactly what happened when we partnered with Southwest Airlines to help promote Shark Week!
When Southwest Airlines’ Brand Partnerships & Entertainment PR Team reached out to us to share their plans to launch five aircraft with special shark insignia, we knew there was the potential to do something really fun and creative with them. The sky was the limit both literally and figuratively.
After a collaborative brainstorming session with Southwest, together we came up with the idea to change the map icons from the traditional airplanes to custom sharks for the five Shark Week aircraft. We had never changed our map icons before, but we really loved the idea of making the Southwest Shark Week fleet stand out on our maps! The Southwest Team was just as excited about the idea so we all agreed to make it happen.
It’s worth mentioning that this project went from concept to execution in about six weeks, so our development team had about a month to deliver the sharks in addition to the custom logos that we also put on the flight tracking pages. From the moment we kicked off the project internally, FlightAware went into full-on Shark Week mode. People changed their Slack (our internal instant messaging system) names to funny, shark-related things and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of aquatic themed snacks in our company kitchen. Our New York team even sent an inflatable pet shark to our Houston headquarters. We named her La Croix and she’s become a valued team member.
The sharks went live on our maps on July 9 and it was fun to see everyone react on social media. The red shark icons certainly caught everyone’s attention—our users had never seen anything besides our classic airplane icons on our maps. Lots of people were familiar with Southwest’s Shark Week partnership and made an immediate connection. We also gave it context with banner advertisements on our website and posts on our social media channels, but there were still some people who weren’t quite sure what was going on. We even received a call from a concerned user who thought we had been hacked!
Our AV geek community has really loved it and our users have uploaded some great photos of the shark aircraft. The fact that this was the first time we had ever changed the icons definitely had a big impact.
Shark Week (or month) has sadly come to an end and that means the shark icons have reverted back to their classic airplane icons on FlightAware. However, the Southwest Shark Week fleet continues to fly through the end of August, so you still have a chance to spot those Sharks in the sky!