With 2016 slowly winding down, what can travellers expect in 2017? Well, if travel trends are any indication, you can expect a lot! From smart new ways airlines are powering their planes to pills that monitor our comfort while flying, we’ve rounded up the top 5 travel trends to keep an eye on in the coming year.
In mid-November, Alaska Airlines successfully powered a Boeing B737-800 from Seattle to Washington DC using biofuel made from a 20% blend of sustainable residual wood, chemically indistinguishable from regular jet fuel. It was the first commercial flight using the world’s first renewable, alternative jet fuel made from branches left over from harvested managed forests.
In June of 2016, the airline operated two flights using a blend of biofuel produced from sustainable corn. Before that, ingredients like algae and discarded industrial cooking oils were used to create a more environmentally friendly fuel. In 2014, Lufthansa even used sugar! Could solar planes be next? Not next year, I’m afraid. But at least they’re trying.
Alaska Airlines and Lufthansa may be leading the way in developing new, cleaner means to fuel their airplanes but with energy and efficiency continuing to be hot topics for the foreseeable future, expect more airlines to follow suit.
Improving the In-flight Experience
Cabin mood lighting, in-air massages and now, a ‘digital pill’. How far will airlines go to make us more comfortable on board in 2017? It’s tough to say. First, they have to gauge how we’re feeling when we’re flying, and by gauging, I mean scientifically examining how our bodies are reacting, not by way of survey.
In order to do that, British Airways has developed what they call a digital pill. Designed to monitor acidity levels, heart rate, nervousness, temperature and sleep phase, the ingestible sensor would wirelessly send biometrics back to airline staff who would then use the information to improve a passenger’s onboard well-being. In theory, if you are feeling cold, your blanket would be delivered to you without you even having to reach for the attendant call button.
Improving the passenger in-flight experience has been a constant endeavor for airlines ever since the first commercial flight. In 2017, if it just wasn’t so creepy, the monitoring of biometrics could become the next frontier.
Very Local Tours
Walking tours have been around forever but they’ve somehow become cool again. Intrepid Travel’s Urban Adventures offer travellers an experienced local guide to shuttle them around in small groups focusing on a specific interest, like food and drink, night hikes or bike tours, providing a more immersive experience for anyone new to a city. They currently offer over 700 unique itineraries in almost 100 countries on six continents, using over 1,000 local guides.
Just how popular have day tours become? Well, even Airbnb has gotten into the game, offering their clients what they call Experiences, with a similar focus on local activities and interests – think truffle foraging, surfing, sushi making… you get the idea.
The Airbus A350XWB
Complimentary noise cancelling headphones are nice but you won’t need them onboard the latest offering from Europe’s Airbus. Designed to compete with Boeing’s B777 and B787, the Airbus A350 is turning heads.
The ‘XWB’ stands for Extra Wide Body and the multiple variants include the -800, -900 and -1000 series of planes. In a typical three-class configuration, the twin-engine plane can seat between 280 and 366 passengers. Entering service in 2015 with Qatar Airways, only 50 or so have been delivered to date, with many more on order due in 2017.
The A350 is the first Airbus aircraft with both body and wings made primarily of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer, making it lighter and more fuel efficient. On board, Airbus promises a better cabin atmosphere with 20% more humidity, more headroom, larger overhead storage space and wider panoramic windows than earlier models. And did we mention it’s quiet?
Currently, the A350XWB is operated by Qatar Airways, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and LATAM Brazil, among others.
Streamlining the Airport Experience
With online check-in, self-service kiosks and NEXUS express lines, our time at the airport is slowly being shortened – thank goodness. So what is there left to tackle?
It’s clear that streamlining the checked baggage experience is the next priority for airlines and airports. A couple of years ago, Air France set up downtown baggage drop locations where travellers can leave their bag before heading to the airport, essentially checking them in ahead of time. South of the border, Alaska Airlines introduced a DIY self-tagging service in several U.S. airports. Luggage itself is getting smarter too, with trackable, self-weighing bags and even wacky motorized suitcases!
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines has been focusing on not losing bags and is currently the leader in the field of tracking. Investing $50 million (USD) in radio-frequency identification (RFID), the airline can now track bags in real time using embedded bag-tags, at an accuracy rate of 99.9%. Electronic baggage tags are also on the radar for EVA Air, Air France/KLM and Lufthansa. Amen.
Honourable mentions go to…
As world sanctions ease and major carriers re-introduce service to Tehran, expect Iran to be the next big thing in terms of hot new-again destinations. Intrepid Travel is already offering a couple of tours!
Along the same lines, expect Cuba to be more popular than ever. Several U.S. carriers have already begun direct flights from the U.S. and the once ostracized island nation is about to get a whole lot busier.
Cruising is hotter than ever before and there’s no slowing down the river cruise market. Cruise lines like Avalon Waterways, Viking River Cruises and Uniworld will continue to cater to those that have been-there-done-that on ocean liners, looking for something new. All aboard!