Air travel has come a long way since the first commercial flight took place over a century ago. Every year, airlines are coming up with new ways for passengers to stay comfortable, connected, and entertained at 35,000 feet in the air. Here are 11 innovative amenities air travellers can look forward to in the planes of the future.
1. TIERED ARM RESTS
For passengers flying in coach, the struggle with their neighbors over a single strip of arm space is a familiar one. It turns out there may be a smart way to solve this problem without cutting down on precious cabin space. One patented design envisions an armrest that curves upward and over itself, creating a top and bottom tier for passengers to rest their respective elbows. Crisis averted.
2. WINDOWLESS CABINS
Passengers wouldn’t be able to avoid getting a window seat on this flight. One futuristic concept plane includes a cabin whose windows have been replaced with high-definition screens paneling the walls and ceiling. Cameras stream in a live-feed of panoramic views from the outside, giving travellers the impression of flying in a glass plane thousands of feet above the ground. In addition to the stunning effect, the design would also make airliners more efficient. Eliminating windows would allow for thinner walls, which would in turn lead to lighter-weight planes and lower fuel costs.
3. AUTO-MORPHING SEATS
Though travellers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, most airplane seats are one-size-fits-all. A solution to this problem is to install smart chairs that automatically morph to conform to a passenger’s body. As another alternative to foam seats, one British design firm’s seating concept uses a single elastic sheet of fabric stretched across an entire row. The size of each individual seat could be adjusted to make more room for families with small children, or passengers sitting next to unused chairs.
4. SEATS THAT RECYCLE HEAT
Airlines are looking into everything from solar energy to biofuel to power the planes of the future, but part of the energy they consume may come from an unlikely source: their passengers. One aircraft company has suggested the possibility of seats that harvest body heat from flyers and reuse it in parts of the plane. While it wouldn’t be a replacement for jet fuel, the recycled energy could be used to run games, lights, and other features in the cabin.
5. PERSONALIZED CLIMATE CONTROL
The conditions that make one passenger comfortable may do the opposite for their neighbor. In the future, airlines may remedy this problem by taking a more individualized approach to climate control. Features like humidifier units, heated seats, and chairs with built-in air vents could all be programmed by passengers to fit their personal preferences. For flyers looking to travel light, a sweater would be one less thing they’d have to pack in their carry-on.
6. “CUDDLE CHAIRS”
Attempting to get a good night’s rest in coach is no easy task. If you’re not interested in falling asleep on the shoulder of the person sitting next to you, this design offers a clever alternative. Nicknamed the “the cuddle chair,” the patented concept consists of a backpack-like device that straps around the passenger to connect to the seat behind them. It supports their weight as they lean forward, allowing them to drift asleep without sacrificing any space. That already sounds more comfortable than falling asleep on your tray table.
7. IN-FLIGHT SNACK BAR
Having to wait for a flight attendant to come around to order a drink or a bite to eat may one day be a thing of the past. At least one airline has already experimented with having a fully-stocked bar onboard, and it was successful enough that other air travel companies may soon follow suit. In addition to providing snacks and beverages, in-flight bars would also give passengers a place to socialize.
8. VITAMIN-ENRICHED AIR
It’s hard for the air that circulates through a cabin to compete with the stuff you breathe on solid ground. What airplane air lacks in freshness, it may one day make up for in nutrition. One airline’s predictions for the airplane of the future include revitalization zones that pump in vitamin and antioxidant-enriched air to help passengers feel relaxed and refreshed. The area would also feature aromatherapy and acupuncture treatments.
9. PRE-ORDERED MEALS
Most airlines allow passengers to check-in via their smartphones—deciding what to eat on the flight could become the next thing they get to take care of ahead of time. Using an app, customers would be able to reserve their meal in advance on the day of their flight. A handful of airlines already offer this service, and you can expect to see it becoming more common in the future.
10. VIRTUAL REALITY VISORS
Airplanes today offer their passengers more forms of distraction than ever before. According to one team of aircraft design specialists, virtual reality could introduce a whole new level of in-flight entertainment. Their futuristic airplane concept includes VR visors built into the seats that flyers can use to experience movies, TV shows, and games. The headset could also help travellers relax by projecting images of a starry night when they’re winding down for bed.
11. SMART LIGHTING
Like death and taxes, the jet lag that comes with a long flight is inevitable. While you may not be able to avoid it completely, one new plane feature has been built to ease its effects. The design uses LED lights throughout the cabin that replicate the natural patterns of sunlight. The lights are programmed to match-up with the passengers’ circadian rhythms, regardless of the position of the sun outside. That means less time spent transitioning to a new time zone and more time enjoying the destination.
Now that you’ve seen where air travel is headed, click here for a look back at how far airlines have come in helping their passengers feel at home—even when they’re up in the air.