No matter how much you love to travel, sitting squished into an airplane probably ranks as your least favorite part. But some innovators present their ideas to change that at the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. At that conference, the industry unveils new ideas for seating, connectivity, catering, and more. Some of their futuristic ideas will make flying feel like a luxury — or at least a bit more comfortable. Check out some of the exciting ideas coming your way, and don’t miss three that some airlines already implemented (pages 13-15).
1. Bunk beds onboard
Airbus and seat manufacturer Zodiac recently unveiled a “Lower Deck Modules” project that turns the cargo area downstairs into usable space. It includes options like a bar, work desks, and a playroom for kids. But the best idea came in the form of a bunk bed container. Stack a few of those suckers and 20 or so passengers can each have their very own bunk bed. Sounds like luxury to us.
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2. More power for your devices
Don’t you hate when your phone or tablet dies in the air, leaving you reading the in-flight magazine? Some manufacturers have a way to solve that. In-seat power vendors recently unveiled faster, upgraded charging options. Some announced USB ports at every seat which can deliver idea wattage for today’s smartphones and tablets. Others even showed off wireless charging options, so you can simply lay your phone on top of it. Never get bored en-route again.
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3. Fresh cookies while in flight
Airplane food has long gotten a bad rap. Some airlines already feature self-service snack bars, but they typically serve packaged goods, not fresh food. Rockwell Collins displayed a heating and cooling option that could provide hot, fresh cookies. Imagine enjoying a fresh-baked cookie while in the air. How’s that for classy?
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4. Cabins with screens instead of windows
Passengers can’t avoid getting a window seat on this flight. One futuristic concept features a cabin that replaces windows with high-definition screens paneling the walls and ceiling. Cameras would also stream in a live-feed of panoramic views from the outside, giving travelers the impression of flying in a glass plane. We still don’t know if that sounds beautiful or slightly terrifying.
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5. Air with vitamins in it
Air travel can really murder your skin, but a solution could lie in air infusions. While the recycled air you breathe in the air can’t really compete with the fresh stuff, it could soon become healthier in other ways. One airline predicted revitalization zones that pump in vitamin and antioxidant-enriched air to help passengers feel relaxed and refreshed. It could also feature aromatherapy and acupuncture treatments.
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6. Meals you order with your phone
Rather than hassling the flight attendant for a special food, you might soon have the option of using your smartphone. Most airlines allow passengers to check-in via their smartphones, but an app might soon allow them to choose their meals, too. Using an app, customers could reserve their meal in advance. Some airlines already provide a similar capability, but it could soon become standard.
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7. Virtual Reality headsets for each passenger
Pretty soon, you can relax into your own world and ignore the nutty person next to you. According to one team of aircraft design specialists, virtual reality could introduce a new level of in-flight entertainment. With VR visors built into the seats, passengers could immerse themselves in movies, TV, and games. They could also use it to wind down for sleep, using ambient sound and relaxing imagery.
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8. Smart lighting that mimics sunlight
A new LED lighting design uses technology that replicates the natural patterns of sunlight. The lights could also coincide with the passengers’ circadian rhythms, regardless of the actual sun’s position outside. That means you could adjust to your new timezone faster and subsequently, enjoy your destination more fully.
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9. A solution to sleeping on your tray
If you’ve ever woken up from an in-flight nap with a stiff neck, innovators have a solution for you. Nicknamed the “the cuddle chair,” the new concept consists of a backpack-like device that straps around the passenger and connects to the seat behind them. It would supports their weight as they lean forward, cradling the person’s body in air. It sounds a lot more comfortable than our current options.
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10. Personalized climate control
Features like humidifier units, heated seats, and chairs with built-in air vents could all become programmed by passengers to fit passengers’ personal preferences. While we can already adjust those little air vents to keep us cool in-flight, technology will soon allow for even more sensitive controls. For those of us looking to travel light, you can soon forget about remember to pack a sweater in your carry-on.
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11. Seats that use your body heat
One aircraft company also suggested the possibility of seats that absorb passengers’ body heat and reuse it in parts of the plane. While it would not serve as a replacement for jet fuel, the recycled energy could run games, lights, and other features in the cabin. With all of those people packed in, using our resources also just makes sense.
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12. Tiered armrests you don’t have to share
Sometimes, using the armrest on a flight can start to feel like a battle of wills. Thanks to this new design, not anymore. One patented design features an armrest that curves upward and over itself. That creates a top and bottom tier for passengers, so one person’s arm goes above the other. Never fight with a complete stranger over three inches of room again.
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13. Surprise in-flight concerts
Live at 35 Southwest has surprised some passengers on select Southwest Airlines flights. Yes, some lucky people have had the pleasure of seeing a real band perform in the aisle while en route. The airline implemented the series a couple of years ago and has since hosted bands like Imagine Dragons, O.A.R., and the Plain White T’s. Just think of the possibilities!
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14. Free in-flight massages
Air Malta Sky Spa features in-flight massage treatments for economy passengers. The service currently only exists on short flights from Malta to and from Gatwick airport, just outside of London. It includes hand, neck, and foot massages, as well as beauty products and soothing music. Someday, the delightful perk could also show up on other airlines.
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15. Your very own minibar
If you like a little mid-flight tipple, you would love the personal mini bars on Etihad Airways. Its first-class suites offer a mini bar at every seat. Hitting the call button for a mid-flight martini might become a thing of the past, if the service spreads. While you can carry on small amounts of alcohol, having your own spot to mix it sure sounds civilized.
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