Modern air travel has become increasingly unpleasant as airlines continue to shrink seat sizes to fit more passengers on board — and this is especially true in economy class. But not all airlines are heading in this direction. In fact, many of them are working to increase passenger comfort through new innovations.
From coach seats that convert to flat beds to cabin filtration systems that produce cleaner air, here are 10 ways airlines are working to make your coach flight more enjoyable.
Coach seats are converting into flat beds
Economy class usually consists of uncomfortable cramped seats that follow a standard row format. But that's changing. Several airlines have introduced economy seats that can be converted to flat beds, and some have taken that even further.
Air New Zealand's Skycouch allows for a row of three economy seats to be converted into a flat bed, all with the push of a button.
The arms on the seats retract, while the seat base extends and seat belts lengthen to give you space for reclining. Up to two people can recline together by lying horizontally against the wall. It's been dubbed the "Cuddle Class," and comes at the standard price for each seat, and the third shared seat for half price.
Several airlines have copied Air New Zealand's design. China Airlines offers an economy class Family Couch, with three economy seats that adjust into a flat bed to accommodate family and friends. The seats come with a mattress protector, pillows, blankets, and a toy for young travelers. The in-flight entertainment system for these seats also features a "Seat Chat" so you can share movies, music, and messaging with one another.
There is also Air Astana's Economy Sleeper , which allows passengers the chance to have an entire row of three seats on long-haul flights. The Economy Sleeper has arm rests that fold up and include a mattress, pillow, duvet, complimentary amenity kit, and priority check-in. The only downside is these seats come at a hefty price, at about half the fee of the airline's business class flights.
Airlines are coming up with creative new seating arrangements in economy class
Air New Zealand is also thinking about new ways to lay out economy class seating. The Air New Zealand Space Seat, offered on its 777-300 Premium Economy, gives passengers space and privacy with curved, couch-style seats that can rotate so that you can face the person next to you and share a meal or turn away for privacy.
The seats are a good option for people who may need to do work or catch some sleep in privacy. Offered for its premium economy class, the seating provides the option for comfortable seating without having to pay for business class.
There is more leg room in economy class
Lufthansa created slimmer seats that are made with a mesh fiber instead of traditional foam padding to allow for increased leg room. Plus, the magazine slits are found at the top of the seat back to give you more knee space. It also offers a premium economy class that features lots of leg room at just a little more than economy class prices.
Delta Air Lines has its economy comfort class, which offers priority boarding, 50% more recline, four more inches of legroom, and adjustable headrests and footrests. Singapore Airlines' premium economy class seats are 19.5 inches wide, with increased leg room, 8 inches of recline, and a calf- and footrest.
Qantas has installed movable bases on the seats of its A3 80 that recline to offer a more comfortable sleep for premium economy passengers. The footrest also has a net below offering you a foot hammock for optimal relaxation and continued circulation flow.
Virgin Atlantic has refitted its Boeing 747 aircrafts flying out of London, Gatwick, Manchester, and Glasgow, to include premium economy seats that offer up to 38 inches of seat pitch and 21 inches of width.
It's worth noting that the p remium economy seats on these airlines cost at least a few hundred dollar more than regular economy, but they're not as expensive as business or first class, and with most airlines, the service also includes priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling.
Even budget US carrier Southwest Airlines added 0.7 inches of extra room to its economy class seating recently.
Travelers are using social networks to choose their seatmates
KLM offers travelers the option to select seatmates based on shared interests or connections through Facebook and LinkedIn through its Meet & Seat program.
The program launched in 2012 and passengers who are interested connect their social profiles to their booking before being presented with seat maps that show where others who have also shared their information are sitting.
In-flight entertainment is getting better
Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment system has seat-to-seat chatting where you can message others on the plane. You also get in-flight movies, satellite TV, a music library, games, digital shopping, and Google Maps. Plus, you can order food and drinks from the system whenever you like.
Singapore Airlines’ system includes the latest movies, TV programs, games, radio programs, and on some there is even a USB port so you can use the system for a personal media player, photo viewer, or PDF reader. The system has up to 80 movies, hundreds of CDs and audio books, and language learning programs.
Emirates offers more than 1,500 channels of movies, TV shows, music, and games, and world news direct from BBC.
Qatar Airways' Oryx Communications system lets you choose from over 2,000 entertainment options including the typical movies, TV shows, audio and games, as well as providing on-board Wi-Fi on select flights to allow SMS and MMS sending and Internet access.
There are in-flight iPad rentals
While it's not uncommon for airlines to offer the ability to stream content on your own iPad or mobile devices, some airlines provide you with in-flight iPads themselves.
OpenSkies offers free iPads for flights from New York to Paris, and Qantas offers the option to stream on your own device or to use their iPads, offered on all 2-class B717 aircrafts and select A330-200 aircrafts.
Several airlines also offer iPads that you can rent for a fee. Jetstar has integrated brackets for iPads, which you can rent for $8.40, that can be snapped into on the back of each seat to offer personalized TV-like screens where you can access movies, TV shows, interactive games, e-magazines, and music. Philippine Airlines offers iPads for rent at $15 for select Middle East routes including Abu Dhabi, Dammam,Riyadjh, and Dubai. And Hawaiian Airlines has iPads for rent at $15 pre-flight.
Airplane interiors are brighter
The Boeing Sky Interior includes curving overheard bins, large ceiling panels lit with color LEDs, and LED sidewall lighting that makes the aircraft look larger.
United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and American Airlines are just some of the airlines that have already adopted the model. The sky blue color is typically used for daytime flights, while a pink hue resembling sunsets is used in the evening.
Filtered cabins are making breathing easier
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a state-of-the-art filtration and cooling system installed into airline cabins to provide cleaner and fresher air. The system uses a HEPA filter to clean out bacteria and viruses, and a gas filter to rid the air of any odors.
Instead of the typical cabin pressure of 7,000 feet, the Dreamliner has a pressurization of 6,000 feet that customers say makes breathing easier thanks to air that is less dry.
Airline pressure and moisture can also affect how food tastes on a flight, and scientists predict that the more moisture there is in the air, the better the food will taste. LAN Chile, JAL, Air India, Royal Air Maroc, and United are some of the airlines that fly the Boeing Dreamliners equipped with this special filter system.
Michelin-starred chefs are creating menus for airline meals
In an effort to make in-flight meals more appealing, airlines are beginning to introduce meals designed by Michelin-starred chefs on longer flights.
Singapore Airlines works with a team of Michelin-starred chefs to prepare menus for all classes. Economy class menus include appetizers like potato salad with baby shrimp, entrees like wok-fried chicken and bamboo shoots in sesame oil, and desserts like strawberry mousse cake.
You can also use their Book the cook service when flying Premium Economy to special-order meals beforehand in case you might not like the pre-selected choices offered.
Passengers are getting free amenity kits
Amenity kits may be a small gesture on an airline's part, but they go a long way in impacting passenger comfort. While most airlines offer amenity kits to first and business class passengers, some are now starting to offer kits to coach passengers as well.
Virgin Atlantic has updated amenity kits that include eyeshades with six different sunglass designs with everything from Kanye West's shutters or Rayban's Wayfarers. It also comes with earplugs, a toothbrush, a pen, and wipes.
On Singapore Airlines , passengers receive toiletry kits with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and socks. On their Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER planes, you can get e-magazines including the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine. They also have complimentary playing cards and writing kits.
Jet Blue’s Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights includes free eye shades, earplugs, hot towels, and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Etihad Airways offers all long-flight passengers a Sleep Tight amenity kit including socks, a toothbrush, earplugs, and an eye mask that passengers can wear to notify staff not to wake them up for meals. For longer flights, the airline has a pillow that converts to a neck pillow for comfortable sleeping.