The future of flying: From standing seats to a 3.5 hour flight from London to NYC, what's next for airlines?

Ellie Ross
The aviation industry is advancing faster than ever currently [Photo: Getty]

Flying has changed almost beyond recognition since the first commercial airline flight took off in January 1914. Piloted by Tony Jannus, there was just one paying passenger on that 23-minute journey across the bay from St Petersburg to Tampa, Florida, made in an open-aired “flying boat”.

Today, we can jet off to virtually anywhere in the world in aircrafts that can hold hundreds of people (the double-decker Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger airline, capable of carrying up to 853 passengers).

Air travel has never been more popular and we’ve grown used to the convenience of flying – nearly 20 million passengers flew on domestic flights in the UK in 2015.

As well as planes getting larger, flights are getting longer. This month, the world’s longest flight launched – a 10,400 mile journey from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey, which took 17 hours and 25 minutes. Operated by Singapore Airlines, the route was reintroduced after a five-year break in response to high consumer demand for the non-stop journey. 

Singapore Airlines boasts suites on its new A380 aircraft, including double and single beds [Photo: Singapore Airlines]

And we are demanding these direct routes like never before, with “non-stop” becoming a buzz word in aviation. Up until this year, flying to Australia from the UK required at least one stopover and took around 24 hours.

But in March, Qantas launched a 17-hour, non-stop service from Perth to London – the first regular passenger flight linking Australia directly with Europe.

Now the airline is eyeing up a direct route between London and Sydney, which could start around 2022 if they can produce the right aircraft for the 20-hour flight.

Qantas launched its 17-hour, non-stop flight to Perth from London earlier this year [Photo: Qantas] 

Clearly, non-stop routes, which shave precious time off your journey, fit well with our busy lives.

Airlines are also responding to this by speeding up travel time. A flight from London to New York that takes just 3.5 hours – around half the time it currently takes – is in the pipeline.

If the Richard Branson-backed Boom Supersonic plane is approved, the first passengers could be travelling around the world at speeds of 1,687mph by 2023. But reaching the Big Apple so quickly will come at a price – according to estimates, tickets could cost as much as £1,700.  

An idea of what the Boom Supersonic, sleek aircraft might look like [Photo: Boom Supersonic]

However, although travelling at supersonic speeds may only be for businessmen and those with deep pockets, air travel is generally becoming more affordable. We have already seen the emergence of budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, and in recent years the low-cost long-haul revolution has been sparked.

Norwegian now flies to US cities including Boston, New York and Los Angeles, while WOW Air travels from Britain to destinations including San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal.  

Even Qantas’ new non-stop Perth to London route is only marginally more expensive than indirect routes. According to Google Flights, Qantas’ Perth to London route costs from £763 return. In comparison, Cathay Pacific is offering return fares from Perth to London, via Hong Kong, from £625.

For most people, the biggest changes we’ll notice will be with the aircraft itself. Modern planes have a host of benefits for travellers, such as mood lighting, onboard wifi and cleaner air in cabins, which can reduce the effects of jet lag.

Economy, business and first class will also disappear as we know them. Airlines are making economy as efficient as possible with smaller seats, and more options to upgrade your level of comfort, such as buying extra legroom. Some airlines, including VivaColombia, is even investigating the idea of squeezing more passengers onto flights – and slashing fares – by introducing “standing seats”.

Meanwhile in first class, you are now pampered with everything from moisturising PJs and sheepskin-style blankets (Emirates) to in-cabin massage chairs (Air Canada). The recent Singapore to Newark direct flight has no economy seats at all, just business and premium economy class.  

The next decade could also see a wider use of biofuels in a bid to reduce pollution, and electric planes powered by rechargeable batteries are also in store. Airbus’s two-seater E-fan plane has already successfully flown across the English Channel – paving the way for a more environmentally-friendly form of passenger flights in future.

With so many developments on the cards, it seems our passion for flying will continue to soar for many years to come.

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Read more: 

Flying long-haul? This is how to beat the dreaded jetlag? 

Why everyone should pay to fly first class once in their life? 

17 hours in the air: This is what the non-stop flight from the UK to Australia is really like