Flying goes hi-tech: Why we've never had it so good

Flying has never been as smooth an experience as it is today. Nor has it been so hi-tech. Across the world, airlines are on a quest to discover the very latest innovations that will meet our increasingly sophisticated expectations of standards of service and comfort, from the moment we book the ticket to arrival at our final destination.

From online check-in to on-demand in-seat entertainment and menus written by top chefs, fliers have never had it so good. We're getting through the terminal to the aircraft more comfortably and ever quicker, onto quieter and greener flights with better air quality. The latest aircraft feel spacious with better seating, top-quality entertainment can be enjoyed at whim, and we can tuck into food and drink that rivals high-street cafes and gourmet restaurants. Even the views are getting better, with planes with bigger windows encouraging us to dream of the far horizons to which we're headed.

British Airways is one airline that has been investing heavily in products and services to improve our journey to and through the skies. When the airline moved its hub to Heathrow's cutting-edge Terminal 5 in 2008 - a £4.3bn terminal with a linear design that can fast-flow up to 60,000 customers every day - it has been attending to every part of its operation to ensure engineering, technology, facilities and service are all state-of-the-art in a whopping £5bn project.

The revolution that is transforming our travels touches every aspect of our journey. And it starts on the ground. Online check-in is relatively new yet something we now pretty much take for granted and more of us are going paperless, downloading our boarding pass onto our mobile phone via an app. But our baggage labels are about to go digital, too.

Why flying is going hi-tech

British Airways will soon be trialing a new digital bag tag to replace the traditional paper label that is attached to suitcases for each flight. After check in, we will soon be able to save yet more precious time by using Near Field Technology on our smartphones to automatically update the airline with our details by just holding the phone over a reusable digital tag.

But the biggest innovation is the two new generation aircraft British Airways is about to introduce to its fleet. The first of 12 Airbus A380s and 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners that will be put in service over the next four years are already in operation. The four-class A380 will fly from the airline's Heathrow hub to its furthest reaches at Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Johannesburg. The three-class 787s will fly to Newark and Toronto.

Why flying is going hi-tech

These aircraft are pioneering new standards in the skies. Thanks to the very latest in engineering, the planes are quieter inside and outside the cabin and far more fuel efficient than older aircraft. Smooth-ride technology will do what it says on the tin, and windows will be much larger than on similar-sized aircraft, so you'll get views of the horizon wherever you sit. When it gets too bright, you won't even have to shut the blind, the press of a button will adjust an electrochromic system that gradually dims the pane.

The double-decker A380, the world's largest commercial airliner, has more floor and head space than British Airway's previous jumbo jet, the Boeing 747-400, yet carries more than 100 extra passengers, with 469 seats. The 214-seat 787s are made of materials that mean the air pressure will be greater putting more moisture in the cabin and the plane can even channel some fresh air into the cabins via scoops in the fuselage.

We'll be able to plan what to watch before we board the plane with the new My High Life Entertainment Facebook app, which reveals the fine detail of what will be on during our upcoming flights. (British Airways even has a Facebook app - Perfect Days - to help us design an itinerary for where to go and what to do when we arrive at our destination.) There are more films available, too, up from 57 to 129. And once on-board, we'll find the flat-screens are larger and all seats have an in-seat power supply, USB port and iPod dock.

Indeed, the cabins will look and feel different. A refresh of the World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins crucially includes greater recline on the seats. The menu in World Traveller Plus now features choices from the Club World menu, too.

Passengers on Club World and First have become used to the smooth transfer from the home comforts of the stylish departure and arrival lounges at Terminal 5 to equally luxurious environment cabins on board, where the latest in in-flight service is offered, with flat beds upholstered with memory foam and dining created by some of the world's top chefs. Yet these cabins have been finessed, too.

The Club Kitchen has been restocked with a new selection of snacks, including cookies, crisps and premium ice-creams. While First on the A380 has been put in a spacious part of the superjumbo to allow more space around the luxurious seat-cum-bed than before. Food and wine menus will change more often in First and a new five-course tasting menu has been introduced with suggested wine pairings.

Travelling the world just got a whole lot easier.

Flying myths: True or false?
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Flying goes hi-tech: Why we've never had it so good
True! It is actually very common for airlines to overbook flights as it is a rule, rather than an exception, that a certain number of passengers will not turn up. Depending on the nation, airlines try to stop having empty seats on flights by overbooking a certain number of seats.

True! The low pressure in the airplane cabin does affect the taste of food and drink, and much more tomato juice is drunk above the clouds than on the ground!

False! Pilots only dump fuel before landing in the case of an emergency, and have to ask permission from Air Traffic Control before doing so.

True! Due to practical and safety-related reasons, aircraft crew do have to meet certain height and weight criteria. A number of airlines also have guidelines on vision too.

True! In order to calm superstitious passengers, a number of airlines don’t have a row 13 or a row 17 in the seating layout.

False! Aeroplanes are regularly struck by lightning, but this does not mean they are forced to land. All aeroplanes undergo stringent tests before being allowed to fly and even in the case of an engine failure, an airplane will not necessarily be forced to land immediately.

False! When cruising at altitude airplanes actually increase oxygen content, as the oxygen content in the air outside the cabin is now high enough.

False! This is one of the oldest rumours, but it is indeed a myth. Toilet contents are stored in a tank and only emptied at the end of the flight, once the plane has landed.

True! For safety reasons, passengers who are severely overweight will have to purchase two seats with certain airlines, but it is rare that these passengers will also have to pay the taxes and fees for both seats.

False! Only in incredibly rare circumstance will a pilot fly a plane alone, as they are always supported by a co-pilot, who plays an active role in the flying of  the plane.

False! The idea of a plane crash is enough to perturb even the most seasoned traveller, but contrary to popular belief, when the US Government’s National Transportation Safety Board studied accidents over 20 years they recorded a survival rate of over 95 per cent. What’s more, the chances of dying on your next flight are calculated to be one in 60 million, making air travel hundreds of times safer than travelling by car. In fact, on this basis you could fly every day for the next 160,000 years without a problem.

False! 'It’s surprising how many people still believe in the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, but the truth is, planes fly over this area every single day, as it's a major flight route from Florida to Bermuda and the Bahamas,' says Aaron Ritoper from Boats sail, planes fly and people swim in the Triangle. The legend started decades ago when a researcher outlined an area he was studying where vessels and aircraft had gone missing. It was given the moniker 'The Bermuda Triangle' and the legend became an overnight sensation. But many disappearances have now been explained in purely logical terms.

False! OK, so maybe YOU personally can’t take a gun on a plane, but American pilots are permitted to carry guns on flights in and out of Britain. Since September 11th 2001, the US Federal Aviation Administration permits all US pilots be armed in the cockpit in case of an unexpected emergency or terrorist attack. For flights of all nationalities, the cockpit is always locked, and passengers are not permitted to take tours or get branded wings from the pilot as they were able to before 9/11.

False! Or more false than true, anyway. According to an old saying, one in the air is like three on the ground. But that adage isn’t strictly accurate; it’s your blood alcohol level that determines levels of intoxication and this is not affected in any way by altitude. However, with less oxygen reaching the brain because of the high altitude and the pressurised cabin, it might cause some passengers to feel more inebriated. Either way, we wouldn’t advise drinking excessively onboard, if only out of courtesy to your neighbours...

False! The difference in cost between weekend and weekday flights can be quite significant. Looking at historical data the flight experts at suggest that booking flights on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday will usually net you a far better fare.

False! It is widely believed that mobile phones could adversely affect the navigational instruments in an aeroplane’s cockpit, but there is currently no credible evidence that links electronic devices with interference. 'Aeroplanes are specially insulated against foreign radio signals, and their communication and navigation instruments operate on different frequencies from mobile phones, meaning that phone signals are unlikely to interfere with the plane’s sat nav. 'The ban is actually in place to prevent communication problems on the ground,' says Aaron Ritoper from 'If someone made a phone call from a plane, the signal would bounce across multiple signal towers at once, which could prevent other calls from going through.' It’s still a hotly debated topic with many suggesting airlines only  support the ban in order to increase the use of expensive in-flight ‘air phones’.  Since January 2014, the European Aviation Safety Agency has allowed limited use of electronic devices on board, causing a number of airlines to loosen regulations. From March 2014, airline Lufthansa has actually allowed limited use of electronic devices during the flight.

True! Despite what many people think, airport security X-ray machines cannot harm your gadgets – computers, cameras, MP3 players and phones are all perfectly safe because the x-ray procedure does not use magnetic charges. However, budding photographers would be wise not to carry old fashioned film with them on planes, as the machines can damage undeveloped photos.

False! Despite making up over a quarter of the population, low income households took just six per cent of the flights recorded from London airports last year, while the top earning quarter of the population took almost half of all flights, according to statistics. So it’s actually the wealthiest people who are benefiting from the growth in air travel: people with second homes abroad take an average of six return flights with the airlines every year.  While air travel has been getting progressively cheaper over the past decade, there’s still a long way to go before it is accessible to all.

False! Air recirculates in an aeroplane cabin approximately every three to five minutes. For that reason, some concerned travellers believe that this constantly recycles germs through the air supply and fosters sickness. However, aeroplanes use sophisticated HEPA filters designed to extract 99.5 per cent of germs and viruses from the air, while studies have even shown that the air filters can remove SARS and bird flu germs, potentially making it cleaner than the stuff you breathe on the ground.

True! There have been a number of stories in the media about passengers’ attempts to open the emergency door at altitude, but this is in fact impossible. Why? 'Because the door is designed to open inwards before opening outwards, and the pressure differential between the cabin and the outside air at altitude prevents this required inward motion - the door is in fact sealed tighter the higher the plane goes. So rest assured: no matter how hard you try, that door is not going to open until you’re firmly on the ground,' explains Aaron Ritoper, UK manager for

False! Planes are frequently hit by lightning. According to, the average commercial jet gets hit at least once a year by lightning. Sometimes, the plane can trigger lightning by flying through electrically charged clouds, causing static. Fortunately, planes are built to withstand lightning, although it has been known on rare occasions to bring planes down.
False! The risk of being killed in a plane crash in any single year is one in 25 million passenger journeys. This is three times safer than travelling by train and 12 times safer than travelling by car. Statistically, you are more likely to have a fatal accident during six hours at work than you are during six hours sitting on a train, according to Brian Clegg's book Inflight Science.

True! Recent research from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics has shown that altitude can dull human taste buds by up to 30 per cent, meaning that it might not be your in-flight meal that’s rubbish, but your own taste receptors. The length of a flight can also have an impact on your taste buds, as the longer a flight, the more dehydrated you become and therefore the more dulled your palate. If you can, choose something with tomato, lemongrass or curry, and the flavours should hold up! 


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