British Airways reveals what the future of flying will look like

The future of flying
LONDON, UK: British Airways BA2119 Flight of The Future event in collaboration with the Royal College of Art at Saatchi Gallery in London on 30 July 2019 (Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)
6 min read

Findings brought to life through the BA 2119: Flight of the Future exhibition, including a one-of-a-kind Virtual Reality ‘Fly’ experience, at the Saatchi gallery during August in collaboration with the Royal College of Art.

Hyper-personalisation, immersive virtual realities, 3D printed health solutions, modular aircraft connected to city infrastructure, hypersonic flying and the rise of super-slow ”flight cruises”, are all part of the future of air travel according to a major global travel report published today by British Airways.

The BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report was commissioned by the airline to mark its centenary year, in collaboration with the leading data-led trends agency Foresight Factory. The report is one of the largest global consumer travel studies of its kind – surveying 13,000 consumers across ten countries – and consultations with leading sector experts and futurologists to offers a picture of what flying will look like in 20, 40, 60 and even 100 years into the future.

Key findings and possible outcomes include:

The report found that consumers want far greater personalisation from their flying experience. Overall 46% of people want a dedicated communal space for socialising, however this was far more popular with those in emerging markets (Brazil 47%), India 69%, China 55% and South Africa 47%) than with passengers in the UK (30%), Germany (22%) and Japan (20%) who preferred a more private experience. 

In the future, greater personalisation could be delivered through aircraft seats that use biological scanners to gather travellers’ physiological and nutritional needs. This data will suggest food and drink to meet individual requirements, which can be 3D-printed on board the aircraft

Acclimatisation to the destination, be that combating jet lag or pre-travel care will be a thing of the past, with 3D printers also used to print personalised health supplements.

AI-powered personalisation will enable passengers to bring cloud-based work and entertainment profiles to their seats, while holographic flight attendants will field basic questions and requests, freeing up cabin crew to offer more value-added interactions.  

Overwhelmingly, consumers say that the future will see the end of airline “classes”, and the rise of bespoke packages where consumers pay for a customisable experience, based on options for space and entertainment. 

Consumer demand for ultra-convenience and personal autonomy also emerge as key trends of the study, with passengers especially keen on speeding up their whole travel experience while still on board the plane. For example, 73% of passengers want inflight technology that allows them to self-complete immigration and visa control while they are still in the air. 63% of consumers would like an in-flight concierge to organise a hotel for them when they land, and a further 56% would like to book a taxi from the air to pick them up when they arrive. 

This could lead to an integrated hyperloop-style transit system, which will transport travellers in modules directly to assigned compartments within the craft, configured to their requirements. As the module passes through the hyperloop tunnel, processes such as check-in, VISA check and preferences around food, drink and entertainment choices are automatically carried out.

The environment is a key consideration for travellers with 43% of people prepared to pay more if the flight was more environmentally friendly. These concerns trump the need for speed, with 45% saying they would opt for the slowest available flight if it was the greener option. 

To deliver on these consumer demands, experts predict we will see planes powered by electricity and alternative fuels, with the ability to recharge in the air using aerial recharging stations, enabling them to travel much longer distances more sustainably. 

Although the emergence of next generation supersonic jets will dramatically cut travel time – with the average flight from New York to London falling from seven hours to three – the report predicts that within 50 years we will see a trend for slow, experiential flights as consumers seek a leisurely start to their holidays. 

These flights could take the form of “Air cruises”, which will see travellers fly slowly over areas of special interest, such as the Pyramids, while interactive VR guides give passengers an immersive running commentary. Other options available to passengers travelling on an air cruises include on-board yoga, meditation or art classes. 

British Airways’ Chairman and Chief Executive Alex Cruz said: “The findings of the BA 2119:  Flight of the Future Report not only offer us unprecedented insight into how consumers across the world feel about flying now, but what they will expect from us, as airlines, in the future. In the last ten years alone, the airline industry and flight experience has changed in so many significant ways, including improved fuel efficiency, noise reduction, in cabin design and luxury. It is therefore not hard to see how, at this rate of progress, these seemingly unreal predictions will come true.

“This is a really exciting way to mark our centenary, which has seen us remember the past, celebrate the present and predict the future in collaboration with fantastic partners from across industry and academia.”

The concepts in the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report have been brought to life by post-graduate students at the Royal College of Art in a special exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London which runs throughout August.  The exhibition also includes a one-of-a kind, full motion, virtual reality experience, Fly. Built by award winning VR creators and an Oscar-winning practical effects team, Fly enables visitors to become a time-travelling pilot, from the earliest imaginings of Leonard da Vinci and his ornithopter, to the Wright Brothers’ success on Kitty Hawk, to that first inaugural passenger flight to Paris. Users will experience Concorde, the brand new A350 and the imagined flight of future.

The report was discussed today at a panel event with leaders from across the industry, including British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, Alex Cruz, Alison Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer, London City Airport; Anab Jain, Director & Co-founder, Superflux (futurists); Dupsy Abiola, Head of Global Innovation, IAG and Ian Scoley, Vice President, Safran Cabin Innovation & Design Studio, California.

Josh McBain, Consultancy Director at Foresight Factory, said: “Aviation is a sector that is continually at the forefront of innovation, striving to develop technology to make flying faster, safer and greener than ever before. 

“The insights we gathered for this report from eight countries and over 13,000 people give the clearest picture we have ever had of what customers expect from their future flying experience and the work we have done with futurologists and aviation experts paint an exciting picture. From air cruises offering in-flight yoga, to solar powered planes and floating re-fuelling stations, the next 100 years of flying will push the boundaries of technology and change the flying experience as we know it beyond recognition. To partner with British Airways – a company that has always been at the vanguard of aviation technology – has been fascinating and we wish them a very happy 100th birthday.”