Travel trends for 2016
1. Ultra-long haul flights
Cheap oil, fuel-efficient engines and new extended-range aircraft mean airlines will be flying longer, and further in 2016. On February 1, Emirates will be starting a nonstop 17-hour, 35-minute service from Dubai to Panama City, a distance of 8,587 miles. The journey will be operated by a B777-200LR and will hold the record for being the longest passenger flight in the world (Qantas’s Dallas-Sydney flight is just over 17 hours).
In September, Air India was considering an 18-hour flight from Bangalore to San Francisco (about 14,000 miles, which would have made it the world’s longest regularly scheduled nonstop service) but decided to operate out of Delhi instead (a more reasonable 7,670 miles) from December 2015. In 2017, Qantas is hoping to fly nonstop between Perth and London (8,991 miles) using the new B787-9s it has on order.
Over the next five years, manufacturers Boeing and Airbus will be introducing the new B777X (this comes in two versions, B777-8 and B777-9), which will have a range of up to 8,700 miles and will be introduced by Emirates in 2020, and an ultra long range version of the A350-900 – the A350-900ULR, which has a range of 10,357 miles.
Singapore Airlines will be the launch customer for the A350-900ULR, which it says it will use for direct flights from Singapore to New York in 2018. Emirates, meanwhile, could use the B777-8 to fly from Dubai to Mexico City, Santiago or Peru (for more on the B777X series from Boeing, including the B777-8 and B777-9, see here).
Unless you are painfully squashed into an economy class seat, ultra-long haul flights are good news for business travellers who will not waste time with stops and layovers. Instead, we will be able to use the time for sleeping and working.
A poll on businesstraveller.com revealed 51 per cent of readers would fly ultra long-haul but only in business class. An additional 24 per cent would fly premium economy or business, while 10 per cent would fly economy.
2. Streaming in-flight entertainment
Airlines are beginning to capitalise on the fact that most travellers have their own personal screens in the form of tablets and laptops, so may be able to do away with heavy, expensive in-flight entertainment systems that are built into seat-backs.
Enabling the transition, Virgin Australia set the trend by introducing streaming technology in 2012. Since then, early adopters have included Israeli carrier El Al, which now allows passengers to stream more than 50 movies direct to their devices via its DreamStream app (download before you board), on select B737 and B767 aircraft. (For those without a tablet, iPad Minis can be rented for about US$3 on the Tel Aviv-Boston route.)
Low-cost Singaporean airline Scoot relaunched its streaming service for the new B787 in February 2015, allowing travellers to stream entertainment for an inclusive price of S$11 (free for business class).
In September, Virgin America equipped ten A320 with high-speed wifi (free until March 2016) for streaming content from Netflix. Alaska Airlines introduced Alaska Beyond Entertainment via the Gogo Entertainment app in November – it allows you to stream films and TV shows from US$1.99 each on B737s and Embraer 175s. (Tablets can be hired from US$8-10).
JetBlue will soon have free wifi across its whole fleet so passengers can watch live sports games on seat-back screens, as well as access content from Amazon Prime via personal devices. (It already has it on all its 150 A320s and A321s but needs to install it across its Embraers.) On wifi-enabled domestic flights with Delta Air Lines, passengers can access Delta Studio to stream movies and HBO shows free of charge on seat-back screens and personal devices. It will complete its roll-out of wifi on long-haul routes by mid-2016.
3. Free wifi on planes
Wifi (for a price) has been available on planes for about five years. In November, British Airways said it is aiming for 90 per cent of its long-haul aircraft to have wifi by early 2019 (only its Club World service from London City to JFK has data connectivity right now). Although many older planes still aren’t yet equipped with the technology, some trend-setting carriers are starting to offer connectivity for free as a way of attracting more customers. While most business travellers would agree in-flight phone calls are a big no-no, being online is very useful.
Finnair is in the process of a US$33 million wifi installation project across its fleet, due for completion in 2018. The first plane to become wired was its brand-new A350XWB, which began flying in the autumn. While economy passengers have to pay 5 euros an hour or 15 euros to connect for the duration of the flight, those in business class (as well as Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members, and Finnair Plus Gold and Platinum members) can log on for free.
Meanwhile, Emirates offers the first 10MB of data free, and is rapidly extending the service to it’s whole fleet. Norwegian provides complimentary wifi to “most of our flights in Europe and on our flights between the US and the Caribbean”. In December, Qatar Airways announced it would give passengers wifi for free for the first 15 minutes. JetBlue, as mentioned previously, offers free wifi so fast that you can stream movies. By 2020, free wifi in the sky will likely be the norm, just as customers expect it from hotels now.
For more on travel trends see our February 2016 edition, subscribe here.