More than 750 million people flew out of, into, or around the United States in 2014. That all-time high number of passengers, when combined with a higher-than-ever rate of airplane occupancy, made for record crowds – crowded planes, crowded airports, and very crowded skies.
Is more of the same on the docket for 2015? The lower price of gasoline may convince some family travelers to take the car instead, especially if airfares fail to react to lower fuel costs. Legroom-starved travelers may tell airlines thanks but no thanks, and choose to hoof it instead. Or this may be the year an airplane in every garage finally becomes reality.
We looked into our crystal ball for some air trends for 2015 and saw …frost. It’s minus-13 outside and only marginally warmer in here. But after 30 seconds in the microwave the crystal cleared somewhat, we tried again, and this is what we saw:
Legroom: 2014 was a safe year, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, with only 11 wars worldwide. Actually, the total was 12; they left out the Legroom War. From the Knee Defender to ongoing lessons in seat-reclining etiquette, legroom became a major issue in 2014. Low-cost, high-volume carriers found themselves on the hot seat (so to speak), and the quest to devise a more comfortable, roomier airline seat became a scientific quest to rival cold fusion. Expect the war to continue unabated in 2015. NATO may not have to send peacekeepers to the back of a Ryanair cabin, but conflict lies ahead.
Class Consciousness: How many levels of airline traveler can there be? The Australian Business Traveller identified 11, and they weren’t padding their totals. If an airline can squeeze out extra revenue from splitting three classes into 11, it’s going to do it. If it means splitting three classes into 33, it’ll probably happen. (We personally cannot wait to fly International Premium Economy Business Plus.) And since every airline calls every one of its classes something a little bit different, you’re going to need a Word Lens for airline tickets to tell you just how many peanuts you’re getting in your pack.
Pressurization: The Boeing 787 and the forthcoming 777x (pictured above) have their passenger cabins pressurized to an altitude of 6,000 feet instead of the standard 8,000. This means the air in the cabin can retain more moisture, resulting in a higher relative humidity, less nose and throat irritation, and less of that “used-air” feeling encountered in conventional passenger planes. Is it worth the extra you might have to pay to take your next flight on a Dreamliner? If you can’t stand breathing the air on a conventional passenger jet, the answer is a definite yes.
Tight Turnarounds: The increasing use of sophisticated data-analysis programs to maximize aircraft utilization and the ongoing competition for prime slots at key airports mean that flights are scheduled tighter than ever. The result through much of 2014 was historically high rates of delays and cancellations, and undoubtedly more missed connections. (We say “undoubtedly more” because the agencies that track delayed and cancelled flights don’t track missed connections, though they absolutely should.) Very bad weather exacerbated the on-time woes. For 2015, airlines are sticking to their tight schedules and hoping for better weather. History shows that’s not a bet that frequently pays off.
Frequent-Flyer-Mile Squeeze: In 2014 many of the major airlines, smarting from the machinations of travel hackers like our very own Kendra Collins and Ariana Arghandewal, began changing the rules surrounding their frequent-flyer-miles programs. Now it’s how far you fly and how much you pay that matters, not just the distance traveled. While there are workarounds, many of them tied to airline credit cards, expect continued squeezing of the mile-scraping budget flyer and bigger rewards for the free-spending first-class business traveler — starting with more peanuts in the pack. And who doesn’t want that?