At any given time, up to thousands of aircraft are in the skies. The “Golden Age” of air travel may feel like it’s long gone in a time of heightened security and since the advent of mass affordable flight, but experts say that consumers can expect flying to be more comfortable and convenient in the coming years — even when you’re riding coach. “To survive and thrive, airlines are focused on product innovations and comfort upgrades to ensure repeat business from customers,” says Jennifer Coutts Clay, who has over 40 years of experience in the operational management and marketing of airlines, including time with British Airways and Pan Am. She is the author of Jetliner Cabins: Evolution and Innovation, a new eBook app featuring a historical record and futuristic look at the commercial flying experience, with over 6,000 images and interviews with airline experts. Are you a frequent flier? Clay says these trends may be headed your way:
• Better seating: Ergonomically constructed seat-frames, climate-controlled seat-cover fabrics and lumbar-supporting contoured seat-foam inserts are just a few of the cabin upgrades being made to ensure more comfortable travel.
• Mood lighting: Passengers are given more freedom to control their immediate surroundings through lighting. Thanks to developments in LED technology, many airlines are phasing out cold-looking lighting installations to feature a rainbow range of colours customised to suit the time of day, the specific area of the aircraft or to simulate the soothing gradual process of sunrise and sunset.
• Connectivity: In-flight entertainment, streaming content options and connectivity are expanding as onboard Wi-Fi becomes faster and cheaper. In-seat power supplies will keep mobile devices running during long flights, giving passengers opportunities to work, keep in touch with those on the ground and more.
• More accessibility: Airlines are making air travel more accessible to those with special needs. Recent advances include aisle-size wheelchairs, seat-armrests that can be raised, extra grab bars and handrails, in-flight literature in braille, special meals for an increased range of dietary restrictions, privacy curtains for use around lavatory doors and baby-changing facilities.
• Improved experience: Flights are getting longer and more crowded. In response, airlines are aiming to tackle the problems of stressed-out passengers, with more personalisation, humanisation and options for how time can be used onboard, including opportunities to move around the aircraft.
• Luxury amenities: In first-class cabins of the “gold-standard” airlines, the luxury-level accommodations, amenities and in-flight service standards keep getting better. Passengers can rely on concierge-type support to handle personal arrangements before, during and after flights, and there is limo service for ground transfers to and from airports. In the future, passengers might be able to expect onboard salon-style spas and even gyms if they are willing to pay a premium. “Preparing jetliners to accommodate airline passengers is both an art and a science,” she says. “As passenger expectations evolve and grow, you can expect significant improvements in cabin comfort and hospitality standards.”