Coming in 2010: Air Travel Innovations


Airlines are rolling out a series of innovations in 2010-from in-flight television to fatigue-fighting smart lights-that will revolutionize the way we travel.

Here, we review common air traveler complaints and take a look at the way the industry is addressing them. It seems like they've got a solution for everything from boredom to jetlag-now the only question is, should we be allowed to use our cell phones in-flight?

Complaint: Boredom
Solution: Live In-Flight TV Service
If your only source of in-flight entertainment is a Sky Mall magazine this coming year, you must not be flying JetBlue or Virgin America. JetBlue is now offering 36 free live channels courtesy of DirecTV, including favorites such as ESPN, Comedy Central, and the Travel Channel. Virgin America teamed up with Dish Network to unveil a new in-flight entertainment line that includes television channels at every seat, and also offers 25 pay-per-view Hollywood movies on demand. Staring at the headrest in front of you will never be the same!

Complaint: Jet Lag
Solution: Fatigue-fighting smart lights
Boeing's hotly anticipated 787 Dreamliner will not only get you from point A to point B, but also help you adjust to your destination's time zone. The cabin ceiling will have smart lights that slowly dim or brighten, mimicking the light schedule of your destination. The non-corrosive materials that make up the plane will also allow for higher humidity levels in the cabin, helping to further combat passenger fatigue.

Complaint: Lack of Space
Solution: More Legroom
If you're seeking extra space, JetBlue is the way to fly. The airline has solved the cramped cabin problem by offering six rows of seats with an additional four inches of space for an extra $10 per flight. Other airlines-British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, and Qantas Airways-offer "premium economy" classes where you can stretch out in wider seats with more legroom, and you might even be able to snag other perks such as upgraded meals or early boarding privileges.

Complaint: Bland Food and Unappealing Drinks
Solution: New Menus
It's a longstanding joke that airline food is bad, but some international airlines are enticing business passengers with exotic menus. Emirates menu include roast lobster and caviar, Cathay Pacific has a beef brisket soup, and Thai Airways treats passengers to a deep-fried lotus root with minced pork.

Close to home, airlines are raising the bar by offering drinks that go beyond shot-sized bottles of liquor. Mexicana Airlines started mixing things up when they commissioned a mixologist to design a signature cocktail menu, and US Airways quickly followed suit with its own collection of high class cocktails. The new drink selections are available in coach as well as first class.

Complaint: Teeny-Tiny Portholes
Solution: Larger, Tinted Windows
What's the point of a birds-eye-view if you can only see it through a teeny tiny porthole? Boeings new Dreamliner will let customers peer through windows that are 65 percent larger than those on other commercial planes, which means those of us who got stuck in the middle seat might actually be able to scope things out, too. Passengers will also be able to control the tint electronically, with the push of a button-meaning you won't have to shutter the window altogether if the sun is setting on your side of the plane.

Complaint: Uncomfortable Seats
Solution: Fully Reclinable Seats
US Airways really knows how to take care of business travelers: the carrier rolled out their "Envoy Suite" in December, a new business class with fully adjustable seats that recline into lie-flat beds. That's not all, either. Each seat has direct aisle access, a privacy separator, and a universal power outlet. The entire fleet of A330's is expected to be updated by summer 2012 with this cutting edge new design.

Ten years ago, British Airlines was the first carrier to introduce lie-flat seats. United Airlines, Continental, and Virgin Atlantic are just a few airlines that have planes outfitted with the fully adjustable seats for long haul flights.

Complaint: Sick Passengers Spreading Germs
Solution: Cleaner Air
Studies have documented cases where diseases have been transmitted aboard aircraft, including tuberculosis, influenza, SARS, mumps, and norovirus. However, new technology is making the air we breathe in-flight cleaner. According to Boeing, most new jetliners are powered by high-bypass-ratio fan engines which not only run quieter, but also provide the cabin with "a mixture of about 50 percent outside air taken from the compressor and 50 percent recirculated air." The new method improves fuel efficiency to boot, making it a win-win situation all around.

Complaint: Rocky Flights
Solution: Turbulence Technology
The miracle-working Dreamliner will have onboard technology that detects wind gusts and other weather changes, automatically adjusting the flight controls to reduce turbulence. Will barf bags become obsolete? We'll just have to wait and see.

Complaint: Security Concerns
Solution: Body Scanners
Whether you think they're necessary for national security or an invasion of privacy, the U.S. government has already said they will invest $25 million in stimulus money to buy and install full body scanners in airports. Concerns over airport security lines turning into peep shows are running rampant, but if you plan on flying in the future you'll just have to get used to it.

Complaint: Too Many Layovers
Solution: Fuel Efficiency = More Direct Flights
Reducing fuel consumption will allow planes to travel farther without having to refuel, eliminating some layovers and making long distance travel much less stressful. The International Air Transport Association has a target to improve fuel efficiency 1.5 percent per year through 2020, cutting carbon emissions in half by 2050 from levels recorded in 2005. Sir Richard Branson said Virgin is aiming to run on clean fuels by 2015, and Japan Airlines even asks that passengers use the toilet before flying to reduce weight and save fuel. The new Dreamliner won't be a lightweight, but its body will be composed of carbon and titanium, making it much lighter than comparable planes that are fabricated from aluminum.

Complaint: Cramped Cabins
Solution: Mezzanine Seating
Jacob Innovations is suggesting that airplane manufacturers make use of vertical space by configuring seats in bunk bed configurations. The new design will make planes more spacious and allow passengers to get a good night's sleep (or nap) while onboard.

Complaint: The Stress of Traveling
Solution: There's an App for That
Now, you can map a trip, book a hotel, check your flight status, and even check-in to some airports using Internet-connected phones, like iPhones and BlackBerrys. These new technologies have the potential to remedy nightmare travel situations, as well as reduce printing costs and paper waste. Even better: when you're waiting in the airport, you can play Sudoku on your handheld!
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