To celebrate British Airways’ centenary in 2019, the airline has revealed insights into the future of air travel. These include super-slow ‘flight cruises’, holographic crew, 3D printed catering and hypersonic jets. Jenny Southan reports

Looking 100 years into the future, the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report was based on a survey of 13,000 consumers across ten countries, as well as predictions from the Foresight Factory.

Over the coming decades, greater personalisation could be delivered through aircraft seats that use biological scanners to gather travellers’ physiological and nutritional needs (Globetrender recently reported on a concept smart seat from Layer and Airbus that adapts to passenger physiques).

The data could also suggest food and drink to meet individual requirements, and could be 3D-printed on board. 3D printing might also be used to produce personalised health supplements to help combat jet lag, for example. This may sound far-fetched but next year a restaurant in Tokyo, called Sushi Singularity, will be 3D printing sushi for diners that is customised to people’s DNA profile and nutritional needs.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence could enable passengers to access cloud-based work and entertainment profiles in their seats, while holographic flight attendants could field basic questions and requests, freeing up cabin crew to offer more “value-added interactions”.

(Although two-thirds say they would be keen to try out an AI personal assistant during their flight, 75 per cent of travellers say that they appreciate speaking to a real person for more detailed requests.)

British Airways says that although the emergence of next generation supersonic jets will dramatically cut travel time – with the average flight from New York to London falling from seven hours to three. It says: “Within 50 years we will see a trend for slow, experiential flights as consumers seek a leisurely start to their holidays.”

These flights could take the form of “air cruises”, which would see travellers flying slowly over areas of special interest, such as the Pyramids, while interactive VR guides give a running commentary. Other options include onboard yoga, meditation and art classes.

Interestingly, more than half of global consumers – 80 per cent in China and India – say they are excited about the possibility of immersing themselves in new, virtual worlds of their choosing while they fly.

The British Airways report also highlights the arrival of flying taxis. It says: “By 2050 it is expected that 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in mega cities and that this will drive the emergence of new, dynamic flights, which will transport people between large metropolitan areas.

“A host of new craft, including mono-passenger VTOLs – vertical take-off and landing craft – will become common-place and they will integrate with other new transport modes such as Hyperloop trains to offer a more comprehensive and personal travel experience.” (Read more about Uber Air’s plan for flying taxis here.)

Technology, of course, will continue to change the flying experience. Planes could become windowless, with augmented reality screens offering travellers views of virtual worlds instead. (Check out the Sky Ceiling on Airbus/Pagani’s private jet concept.)

What do passengers want from the future of flight?

According the opinions of those surveyed, 46 per cent of people want to find a dedicated communal space on planes for socialising, however, this was far more popular with those in emerging markets (India 69 per cent, China 55 per cent and South Africa 47 per cent) than with passengers in the UK (30 per cent), Germany (22 per cent) and Japan (20 per cent) preferring a more private experience.

Passengers also forsee the end of airline “classes”, and the rise of bespoke packages where consumers pay for a customisable experience, based on options for space and entertainment.

In addition, key trends include ultra-convenience and personal autonomy, with passengers particularly keen on speeding up the whole travel experience while still on board the plane. For example, 73 per cent of passengers want in-flight technology that allows them to complete immigration and visa control themselves while they are still in the air.

Alongside, 63 per cent of consumers would like an in-flight concierge to organise a hotel for them when they land, and a further 56 per cent would like to book a taxi from the air to pick them up when they arrive.

Climate change is a key consideration for travellers of today, with 43 per cent of people prepared to pay more to make flying more environmentally friendly, even if it means going slower.

In the future, we will see planes powered by electricity and alternative fuels, with the ability to recharge in the air using aerial recharging stations, enabling them to travel much longer distances more sustainably.

British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, Alex Cruz, said: “The findings of the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report not only offer us unprecedented insight into how consumers across the world feel about flying now, but what they will expect from us, as airlines, in the future.

“In the last ten years alone, the airline industry and flight experience has changed in so many significant ways, including improved fuel efficiency, noise reduction, in cabin design and luxury. It is therefore not hard to see how, at this rate of progress, these seemingly unreal predictions will come true.”

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