Alex: “Aviation is this whole other world that really intrigues me.”

Enjoying an upgrade to the spacious upper deck on China Airlines’ 747

We recently sat down for a conversation with Alex Wilshaw, who has been a part of the App in the Air community since 2015. In addition to being a loyal user, he is also a volunteer translator who has helped translate the app to Norwegian.

Embracing his inner tourist in Hong Kong

Let’s start by having you tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m currently a student at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where I study an interdisciplinary program called PPLE—it stands for Politics, Psychology, Law, and Economics. I’m originally from the U.K., and have also spent a substantial part of my life living in Norway, where my family is currently based. I’ve really gotten used to traveling around for leisure, to visit family, and now also for my studies.

Having spent much of your life in the U.K. and Norway, how do the two places compare in your opinion?

Well I’m from London, and have now lived in Oslo for the past 7 years. London is very big, very industrial — there’s always something happening. It feels like the city of London is just on a big hustle, whereas in Oslo, everything is much more calm. Everything is small scale and people are very chill, which I think there’s both pros and cons to. They’re both good places for different reasons.

Have you had the opportunity to travel at all during the pandemic?

I actually flew back to Norway recently from university, and had to take three flights to make it since my direct flight was canceled. I flew Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Stockholm, and then Stockholm to Oslo. I enjoy flying so I did appreciate the extra time in the air. I also was on a Qatar Airways flight back in January. It was a 777–300, which is a massive aircraft, and there were only like thirty people in Economy, which felt dystopian. I had different seats to lay down in, to eat in, and to watch movies in— I just moved back and forth.

Hearing you talk about aircrafts, I get the sense you’re very passionate about the topic. Would you consider yourself an aviation geek?

Yes, definitely. I mean, as a child, we actually didn’t fly that much because we just didn’t really have any reason to go abroad. But then, when we moved Oslo, we started traveling between the U.K. and Norway frequently, and then there was just something about it. I just fell in love. It’s all so interesting, from looking at flight maps, to seeing how airports work, to learning about the different airplane types. It’s like this whole other world that just really intrigues me now.

With all of that said, do you have a favorite aircraft?

Oh, that’s a good question. I do really like the Boeing 737–800. I can check on my app… I’ve flown on it 129 times, so it’s definitely the plane that I’ve flown on the most. And so it just kind of feels like home to me.

What about destinations? What has been your favorite place that you have traveled to?

I think it would probably be Japan. We took a trip there in the summer of 2018 and it was so much fun that without ever having intended it, we went straight back again in the summer of 2019. For me, it’s such a fun place to visit. Everything is so ordered and logical and easy to understand. I feel like I identify with the culture. The first trip, we spent most of our time in Tokyo, and also visited Hiroshima and Kyoto. The second time around, we also flew from Tokyo down to Okinawa, which is an island that is actually much closer geographically to Taiwan than to mainland Japan. It’s kind of a holiday island, which was interesting as well.

From left to right: at Mount Takao, a natural escape close to Tokyo; a Jizo statue spotted donning knitwear; Alex claims the food in Japan is unbeatable!

Having been to Japan twice in recent years, do you have any tips for someone visiting for the first time?

Yeah, I think doing research beforehand and really understanding the etiquette—what you’re supposed to do and not do—can make it a lot more enjoyable. For example, you’re supposed to stand on the left side of the escalator, whereas in Europe you stand on the right. The first time I noticed it was when we stepped off the plane and were going through the concourse, where you had to go up the escalator to reach the main part of the terminal. You could see that half of the plane’s passengers were standing on the right side, and the other half was standing on the left. I realized, okay, something isn’t right here. And it turns out of course, that all of the tourists were standing on the right.

Switching gears now, you have played a major role in helping us a volunteer translator — thank you! Could you share a bit about that experience?

I’m part of the Friends of App in the Air community, and I think Nikita had posted about looking for help with translations. So I said, yeah, I speak Norwegian. Why not? We had some introductions, and then he gave me access to a login for a website where I actually did the translations. There’s a lot of words and you can see the context of where they are used in the app, and you have to figure out how many characters it can be. For instance, the Apple Watch, you only have a couple of characters to fill. It can be quite difficult to translate into different languages because people phrase things differently, so there’s always the challenge of, how would I say this naturally? Because it can make literal sense, but we know sometimes there’s a euphemism or something. It’s quite challenging, but it’s also fun.

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