The airline business is a competitive one, which means that passengers benefit from constant innovations and improvements in the inflight experience.
It’s always intriguing to know who’s the best of the best though – and to know which special features to look out for when travelling in a new region, or on a new airline.
We’ve scoured the industry for leaders in inflight innovation – and here are six of the best in class in six of the inflight experiences that matter to passengers the most: comfort, efficiency, food, entertainment and sleep…
First, First Class
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad offers the ultimate in air travel with The Residence, a three-room apartment aboard its Airbus A380 aircraft flying selected long-haul routes, including London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul and Sydney. Just one small step away from private air travel, this experience commences with a private entrance at the airport for check-in. A butler takes care of every need once airborne, and the suite includes a luxurious double bedroom, a lounge area, and a private bathroom. Soft details include bespoke fine dining complemented with the finest wine, champagne and cognacs. With only one Residence available on each flight, Etihad has set the standard in first-class air travel.
Getting down to business
Qatar Airways has honed its Q-Suite Business Class offering to do so much more than offer a great night’s sleep: its aft and forward facing seats, movable panels and quad configuration means that spaces can be quickly transformed into a social area, allowing passengers to work, dine, host meetings or socialise while airborne. When it’s time to relax or sleep, the spaces are quickly returned to comfortable private spaces.
Couch in the sky
Air New Zealand’s Skycouch offers a flat, flexible space across three seats in its Boeing 777 and 787-9, giving families or those seeking more privacy and space a more comfortable Economy experience. Made possible by a custom-designed footrest extension on each seat in the row, Skycouch is particularly appealing for parents flying with infants, as the Skycouch Infant harness, belt and pod makes it possible for infants to sleep safely and securely alongside their parent. Skycouch is an Economy class upgrade option.
Can airline food be fabulous?
Not many know that humans lose between 20 and 30% of their sense of taste at altitude, so perhaps it’s not just airlines’ fault that their food receives so much disapproval – and food preferences really are subjective. Airline blogger Nik Loukas has travelled the world, and firmly believes that Turkish Airlines offers the best food – complete with homemade lemonade! His most fun meal? A Hello Kitty bento box aboard Eva Air from Paris to Taipei.
Whiling away the time on a long-haul flight can be onerous – although Emirates has risen to the challenge and won the accolade of offering the best in-flight entertainment for 14 years running. The airline offers more than 4,000 on-demand channels in multiple languages, including live sporting events and breaking news.
Tuck, global sleep experts, have rated The Apartment by Etihad as the best inflight flat-bed sleep experience, but this is hotly followed by JetBlue’s Mint offering and First Class on Emirates and Cathay Pacific. These are all winners based on the length, width and comfort of the flatbed, as well as luxurious linen and turndown services.
While most of these innovations have to do with comfort, Bloomberg’s trend watchers anticipate a range of technology-driven features to enhance passengers flight experiences even more in the future. These include buying flight hours in bulk to be redeemed when they’re needed, rather than buying tickets for specific flights and self-driving cars to manage luggage. Other innovations could include Artificial Intelligence and adaptive technology that will make seats more comfortable, amenities dispersed throughout the cabin, such as samples and freebies, and, something mostly unspoken of: improved lavatory sterilisation techniques.
We’re willing to bet, though, that the most sought-after innovation in aviation for passengers is universal in-flight Wi-Fi that just works. Always.