Things you never thought you'd see flying

27 Jun 2011

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Airlines across the globe are delivering the aircraft of tomorrow, today, with some of the most cutting edge onboard features ever seen heading to a plane near you.

The world’s leading carriers are spending millions to stay one step ahead of the competition in bringing passengers the most modern flying experience possible.  Everything from touch screen tablet computers to double beds have made it to today’s aircraft and airlines aren’t stopping there.

Previously unheard of tech improvements and comfort upgrades are currently being installed by some of the biggest airlines in the world to give passengers a cutting edge experience every time they step onboard.

Here is a list of the most amazing features you thought you’d never see in air travel.

Mile high exercise bikes
Passengers who want more than a mid-flight stroll up the aisle to stretch their legs may soon have solution to their problems courtesy of Lufthansa.  The brains at Lufthansa Tecknik have created an aircraft ready exercise bike that satisfies aviation regulations and is available for installation.  Cabin pressure, coupled with the lower concentration of oxygen onboard, means you won’t be setting any records for pace but climbing in the saddle for a few minutes is sure to warn off the stiffness of a long haul flight.

More legroom in economy
Salvation for long legged passengers has arrived.  New slimline seats from UK company Acro Aircraft Seating is giving the big and tall among us some extra room to manoeuvre with its cutting edge Superlight seat model.

The revolutionary design keeps all structural components out of the foot well to allow more room for the legs of the passenger sitting behind it. Add in the ability to recline and flying economy with Delta Airlines is now a little less claustrophobic.

Food that tastes good
Airline food has never been regarded as anything but a gastronomic disaster and with

many passengers preferring to go hungry rather than chow down, airlines have turned to some of the best chefs in the world to make the midflight meal easier on the palette.

Qantas signed up celebrity chef Neil Perry as its coordinator of flight catering to revolutionise its onboard menus.  Business class passengers flying Virgin Australia are treated to sophisticated gourmet menu created Sydney’s Luke Mangan, including a full three course meal prepared on board by the crew.

First class passengers on United Airlines flights can enjoy a menu overseen by American Michelin Star winner Charlie Trotter.  Air France has also followed suit, recently enlisting the help of triple Michelin Star winner Alain Ducasse to revamp its onboard offering.

Double beds
Virgin Atlantic has introduced double beds for passengers travelling in Upper Class Suites aboard its Boeing 747-400 aircraft.  Couples can enjoy two square metres of space to stretch out but anyone thinking of joining the mile high club might want to reconsider.  The partitioned suites might stop passengers on either side noticing any funny business but over-amorous travellers are sure to be spied by anyone walking down the cabin aisle.

Aircraft of the future
Airbus is pioneering a revolutionary aircraft design featuring a transparent hull, allowing passengers to take in the spectacular vista of the sky while flying.  Passengers keen for a bird’s eye view of the world may be waiting a while though, Airbus predicts a 2050 timeline for delivery of the futuristic design.

Boeing’s long awaited 787 Dreamliner is sure to be a breath of fresh air to passengers.  The building materials used in its design gives it a high strength to weight ratio with low cabin elevation, effectively increasing the amount of oxygen circulating through the aircraft.  Along with a slight increase in onboard humidity and air filtration, flying aboard the Dreamliner will be a fresher and healthier experience without the dreaded ‘drying out’ effect of air travel.

Showers
First class passengers flying with Emirates can refresh and revitalise with a mile high shower onboard the airline’s A380 aircraft.  Passengers can book 25 minute slots in the onboard facilities including a five minute shower to revitalise on long flights.  Don’t worry about getting caught out mid-shampoo, Emirates has installed a software controlled timer to ensure passengers can keep track of when their water is about to stop.

Smart-phone boarding passes
No printer? No worries.  Air Canada, Lufhansa and SAS are leading the way in mobile

boarding passes with specialised smart phone applications.  Passengers can check in with their smart phone and receive a code via SMS for scanning at the airport.  Only a select few airlines currently offer the service with carriers including United, Continental and American Airlines seeking to expand the program to more than 30 airports across the world.

Tablet computers
American Airlines has announced an agreement with Samsung Mobile to replace its current personal entertainment devices on 767-200 and 767-300 aircraft with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.  The move will give passengers access to next generation touch screen entertainment in 600 American Airlines planes by mid 2012.

The paperless airplane cabin
The days of flipping through a dog-eared in-flight magazine could soon be a thing of the past as airlines ditch the pre-takeoff rag for a digital alternative.  Singapore based company SmarttPapers Aviation has already given Singapore Airlines a head start, transferring its three in-flight magazines to the onboard Krisworld entertainment system in A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft.

The change isn’t just a tech upgrade. Stripping the weight of hundreds of hard copies helps save on fuel and cuts the environmental cost of producing the magazines.

Next-gen onboard amenities
First class passengers aboard Japanese carrier ANA are treated to a personal 23 inch touch screen for in flight entertainment, the largest onboard screen in its class.  Travellers in all ANA’s premium class cabins also have access to warm water bidet toilets, an industry first.

Business and first class passengers looking to get away from their seats aboard Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines A380s can enjoy a tipple and a chat at the onboard bar.

Emirates is also helping it’s passengers beat jet lag with an inventive cabin lighting system that mimics daylight, sunrise and sunset to keep passengers’ body clocks in synch with

their destination time zone.

3D movies
With Hollywood’s latest blockbusters now being presented in 3D, airlines are looking to give passengers an immersive 3D experience minus the annoying glasses.  MasterImage, the company behind cutting edge 3D entertainment for mobile devices, has plans to outfit new and existing aircraft with revolutionary glasses-free 3D capabilities similar to Nintendo’s highly successful 3DS game system.

Carbon friendly fuel
With operators around the world looking to cut carbon emissions, switching to renewable fuels is a hot industry topic.  Eight US based airlines, as well as Lufthansa and Air Canada, have signed letters of intent with Washington Based Solena Fuels to use the company’s biomass derived jet fuel.

Low emission fuel producer Neste Oil also showcased its NExBTL renewable aviation fuel at the Paris Air Show.  Commercial use of the fuel on aircraft is due to begin in late 2012.

What would you like to see as the next "big thing" in air travel?  Share your ideas below.

Sue Johnson

Sue started her career in travel as a Travel Consultant and is now part of the Travel Associates marketing team. You can email her at sue_johnson@travel-associates.com.au