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5 airline innovations that made jaws drop

Big things are taking place up in the skies. This year a solar-powered plane flew around the world, supersonic flight is tipped to become a reality once again, and let's not even mention hypersonic.

Big things are taking place up in the skies. This year a solar-powered plane flew around the world, supersonic flight is tipped to become a reality once again, and let’s not even mention hypersonic.

Just like their aircraft, airlines are never staying still, continually investing in product to stay ahead of the pack amid rapidly rising competition.

But which are the most exciting innovations that have lit up the skies in recent times? We round-up the ones that got people a little hot under the collar.


Flying nannies


Anyone that has travelled with a small person in tow on a long-haul flight (heck, any length flight) understands the agony and tears that often accompany the journey. It’s an ordeal that Etihad Airways has recognised and addressed.

In 2013, the Abu Dhabi-based airline introduced its Flying Nannies, to provide a “helping hand” to families. The orange-aproned lifesavers gave completed in-depth training focusing on child psychology and sociology which enables them to appreciate the perspective and needs of travelling families.

In addition, the course also covers many different creative ways the Flying Nanny can entertain and engage with children during flights.

Flying without kids? Got a hefty wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket? Why not fork out for a stint in Etihad’s ultra-luxe The Residence instead, and sample the services of one of its Savoy-trained butlers on board, complete with white gloves.


Kid-free zones

Business Traveller Plane Shutterstock

Then there are those people who literally want to be as far away as possible from kids for the duration of the flight. Thankfully for them, a number of airlines have introduced kid-free zones.

In August 2013, AirAsia X launched a new “quiet zone” on its long-haul services, strictly off-limits to children under 12.

The aim was to cater for those in search of some “peace of mind”, with soft lighting and a child-free policy.

The move was swiftly followed by Scoot in September of the same year with the Singapore-based budget carrier also banning under 12s from a section of its aircraft to cater to passengers seeking “peace and quiet” with extra legroom an added bonus of the ScootinSilence product.

“No offence to our young guests or those travelling with them, you still have the rest of the aircraft,” chief executive Campbell Wilson said at the time.

Just last week, Indian budget carrier IndiGo followed suit, introducing “quiet zones” among its premium seats where children under the age of 12 are forbidden.

“These zones have been created for business travellers who prefer to use the quiet time to do their work,” the airline said.


Fine Dining


Who can remember the days when eating airplane food was a toe-curling prospect, even at the front of the plane? The answer is probably most of us, because it’s only recently that airlines have significantly upped the ante when it comes to food and drink.

Think Qantas’ Neil Perry-designed menus featuring dishes that wouldn’t look out of place in his renowned Rockpool restaurant. His influence has now been extended to Qantas’ strategic partners American Airlines and Emirates too.

And it’s not just Neil Perry. Virgin Australia has enlisted the expert services of high profile restaurateur Luke Mangan who also adds a little star sheen to P&O Cruises’ on-board dining. Then there’s Fiji Airways, which has charged celebrity chef Lance Seeto with injecting a little pizzazz into its inflight menu.

Even those in “cattle class” are getting better food, larger portions, better wine.


Inflight entertainment


Despite all of the delicious dining advances just discussed, a recent survey of airline passengers from around the globe showed that more than half would prefer inflight connectivity to inflight meals.

No surprise then than Qantas, after years of dithering, finally decided it was time to roll inflight wifi out across its Australian flight. That’s scheduled to take place from early next year with the airline also examining options for high-speed wi-fi across its international and regional fleet.

“This service will give Qantas customers download speeds in the air similar to what they’re used to on the ground,” Chief Executive Alan Joyce said.

“You won’t be limited to checking your email or Facebook – it’s going to be about watching the football live, streaming your favourite TV show or movie, catching up on the latest YouTube videos, or shopping online.

Not one to be left behind, Virgin Australia announced it would follow suit with the new technological capability to be implemented from the middle of 2017.

“Inflight wifi has the potential to transform air travel as we know it,” Chief Executive John Borghetti said.

Other airlines hailing from distant corners of the globe have long been offering inflight wifi, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re finally catching up!


Showers in the sky


Is there any greater luxury than getting a soapy lather on while you are thousands of metres up in the sky? We’re struggling to think of one. Especially when you picture those poor sardines in economy class coughing and spluttering all over each other. And have you heard of poo particles? Let’s not even go there.

Sufficient to say that cleanliness and hygiene during a long-haul flight is largely the domain of those lucky enough to be sitting at the pointy end of the plane. Even if you aren’t dirty at all, why wouldn’t you still strip off, just to say you have had a shower at 39,000 metres?

Emirates was for some time the only airline to offer the spa shower suite, but Etihad has since caught up and no doubt other airlines will soon take their lead.

Given that we have yet to sample a full body wash aboard either airline, we’ll leave you with someone who has – enjoy!

Tell us which airline innovations have been most exciting for you!