Photo: Etihad Airways

The 9 Coolest Things Airlines Are Doing This Year to Improve Flying

Travel Airports + Flying
by Alex Bresler Apr 26, 2018

It’s easy to complain about air travel. These days, the likelihood of finding overhead space for your carry-on is as slim as the average economy seat, and freebies like roasted peanuts seem like a thing of the past. Sometimes, it feels like airlines are doing everything they can to make flying a downright hassle, but most are actually actively making improvements to bring air travel into the Digital Age and help passengers fly more comfortably. Here are nine ways innovation and technology are changing the way we travel in 2018.

1. Airline menus are getting the Michelin-star treatment.

Airplane food has been the butt of flying jokes for as long as we can remember. In an effort to mend their culinary reputations, airlines have started teaming up with some of the world’s best chefs to create meals that travelers will actually enjoy eating. Carriers like Air France and American Airlines already offer menus designed by Michelin-star chefs in first and business class, but in 2018, even an economy ticket will score you some good grub. Japan Airlines is now upgrading its meal service to give everyone first-rate dining, joining carriers like Qantas and Singapore Airlines in the effort to make high-quality plane food the new normal.

2. Cathay Pacific is hosting yoga class at 36,000 feet.

Almost everyone we know either does yoga or teaches it on the side. Meditation is practiced everywhere from preschool classroom to nursing homes. So, it was only a matter of time before airlines hopped on the wellness bandwagon. Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific recently partnered with Pure Yoga to create instructional videos for exercises that can be done on the plane, as well as before or after a flight. Passengers will also find tips about meditation, mindfulness, and healthy living. So far, the service has received positive feedback, meaning there’s a chance we’ll see wheatgrass smoothies on the drinks trolley one day.

3. Etihad is giving parents a break with onboard babysitters.

Etihad’s Flying Nannies have been around for a few years, but the mile-high childcare service is better than ever before. The airline recently graduated its 2000th Flying Nanny and introduced a new Flying Nanny Kit loaded with fun activities like face paint, Origami, and magic-trick materials. The onboard babysitters are flight attendants with childcare training from the UK’s esteemed Norland College, so you can trust that your little ones are in good hands. Better still, the Flying Nanny service is complimentary for all passengers on long-haul flights.

4. Virtual reality is coming to the United Arab Emirates’ airports.

UAE-based airlines Emirates and Etihad want to see virtual reality headsets become the new standard for in-flight entertainment. Both carriers are currently running trials in select business- and first-class lounges to gauge interest in VR tech. Right now, anyone with access to the premier lounges in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports can test out SkyLights Aero Virtual Reality headsets, which are programmed with 2D and 3D movies, as well as a handful of VR experiences. The headsets are designed to be comfortably wearable for several hours at a time and have an approximate battery life of six hours, so it’s pretty clear they’re headed for the cabin if all goes well with the trials.

5. Qatar Airways is bringing sliding doors to business class.

Qsuite is the latest in luxury seating from Qatar Airways. It features a “quad configuration” made up of two front-facing and two rear-facing seats, each of which comes with a sliding door for optimum privacy. The four-seat units are separated by adjustable in-flight entertainment panels that can also be pushed to the side to create an open space, so it’s especially great for families or business colleagues traveling together. Qsuite seats also recline into fully lie-flat beds, and privacy dividers can be lowered to convert adjacent seats into a double bed. If you’ve got the funds, it’ll make you feel like you’re flying from the comfort of a hotel room.

6. Virgin Atlantic is making in-flight entertainment more inclusive.

Partnering with Bluebox Aviation Systems and Guide Dogs for the Blind, Virgin Atlantic is making in-flight entertainment more accessible for visually-impaired passengers. Blind travelers, as well as those with partial sight loss or sensitivity to brightness, now have access to an iPad-based user interface customized with larger print, easy-to-use controls, audio descriptions, and more. Virgin Atlantic is the first airline to offer a platform designed with visually-impaired passengers in mind, but it isn’t the first time the airline revolutionized in-flight entertainment. In 1991, Virgin Atlantic outfitted every seat back with a TV screen, redefining how we consume media while flying. Let’s just hope this trend takes off too.

7. KLM is doing on-demand dining.

KLM is bringing restaurant-style dining to the skies. World Business Class passengers can enjoy the “Anytime For You” dining service on select flights, making it possible to order food pretty much anytime during daylight hours in addition to the regular three-course meal service. “Anytime For You” dishes are served by hand to make the business-class cabin feel more like a sit-down restaurant, adding a touch of class to your onboard dining experience.

8. Virgin Australia is helping infants (and everyone else) get some shut-eye.

There is one fear all fliers share: being seated in the vicinity of a fussy baby. Thankfully, Virgin Australia is here to help. In December 2017, Virgin Australia became the first major Australian carrier to approve sleeping devices like inflatable beds onboard its aircrafts. Plane Pal, BedBox, and Fly Tot have all been given the go-ahead, so it’s time to put in your Amazon order and start planning that family vacation you’ve been putting off.

9. Biometric technology is being tested to replace boarding passes and bag tags.

Delta and JetBlue are testing facial recognition and fingerprint scans as alternatives to print boarding passes and luggage tags. Security is a big motivation behind changing the way we get through the airport, but the use of biometrics is also expected to make boarding faster and more efficient. It’s still too early to say just what impact the technology will have on flying, but it’s shaping up to be one of the biggest travel trends this year. All we know is that once our faces become our travel documents, we’ll never have to worry about misplacing our passports again.

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