Innovations in Air Travel

Some interesting plans are in the works to make flying better for everyone

Credit: caribb

Some airlines are reworking the way seats recline for greater comfort

New technological advances today are allowing airlines to improve the way we’ll fly tomorrow

While many of us often like to criticize the airlines for all the things they don’t do for us, or all the things they seem to want to charge us for, some interesting plans are actually in the works to make flying better for everyone. Here’s a look at some of the cool plans now underway, starting with before you even board your flight.

Innovations in Air Travel

London’s Heathrow Airport is currently testing 18 fully automated taxi pods that let you board when you want to, rather than having to wait for a bus on a fixed schedule. Hop in at the parking lot, punch in your destination on a touch screen and the battery-operated, driverless pod will take you where you need to go.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific has reinvented the economy-class seat. As the seat reclines, the bottom slides forward, but the back stays in place. Perfect for the passenger sitting behind, who won’t have to deal with a seat hovering inches from his or her knees. Word is that American Airlines is thinking of going the same way.

Poor cabin lighting on a long flight is said to worsen jet lag, as too much bright light at an hour when you’d ordinarily be sleeping can confuse the body’s internal clock. Virgin America is the only airline that currently offers an in-cabin lighting system that subtly shifts through 12 shades of violet as the day goes on.

Virgin, by the way, is also the first airline in the U.S. to offer Wi-Fi on every flight and standard sockets at every seat on the plane. Very convenient.

At the moment, a lot of airlines don’t make it easy to upgrade your ticket. But when you check in at the airport kiosks for a Spirit Airlines flight (a U.S.-based low-cost carrier), the screen may inform you that one of the airline’s “Big Front Seats,” as they like to call them, is available for as little as $35. Good to know, if you don’t feel like inquiring with the airline check-in staff. Of course, it doesn’t hurt just to ask.

And finally, for a safer landing, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is rolling out “NexGen” — a GPS-based air-traffic control system that provides real-time plane locations to pilots and air-traffic controllers. Trials are already underway in Alaska Airlines planes. Using GPS technology, planes will be able to fly straighter, more efficient routes while maintaining a safe distance from other aircraft. The catch? It could be 2025 before this technology is adopted nationwide. But better late than never.

Tips for Comfortable Flying

Until the airlines trot out all their new innovations and create a perfectly comfortable flying experience, you’ll have to take your own steps to ensure your comfort. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Wear layers in case you get hot or cold, so you can add or remove items as needed.

  • Pack an eye mask and earplugs to help you tune out and get to sleep.

  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcoholic beverages.

  • Try to get up from your seat at regular intervals to maintain good circulation.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.