The next time you take to the skies, pay close attention. Airlines are constantly evolving to attract new customers and keep loyal travelers coming back.
Here are some of the most interesting innovations coming to airports in the new year.
Lounges: Jet lag zones and barbecue decks
Airlines are upping the wow factor before travelers step foot on a plane.
Finnair’s new Nordic-inspired Platinum Lounge in Helsinki counts a Finnish sauna among its amenities, while Cathay Pacific’s The Pier lounge in Hong Kong offers The Sanctuary by Pure Yoga, a 700 square-foot area divided into two zones for yoga and meditation. The same lounge also features a tea house serving artisanal Chinese teas.
KLM’s new Amsterdam Schiphol lounge features a sunset light wall designed to simulate the Dutch sky and help travelers adjust to the local time zone. Of course, they can get fresh air by visiting the alfresco plane-spotting deck too. Two virtual reality cabins help those who want to feel like they are somewhere else entirely.
SAS’s jet lag recovery room.
Courtesy of SAS
Scandinavian Airlines recently updated its Copenhagen flagship lounge to feature an innovative “Daylight Booster Zone” delivering light therapy meant to get passengers’ circadian rhythms back on track. The lights are adjustable for stimulation or relaxation, based on how far passengers are traveling or how long they want to stay awake.
Qantas opened an outdoor barbecue deck in its Perth lounge, so passengers can catch some sun and fresh air before long-haul flights, like its 17-hour nonstop flight to London introduced last year.
Japan Airlines’ renewed first class lounges at Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports feature live sushi counters with rolls made to order. The airline has also launched halal-certified cuisine in its lounges and now serves yuzu and salt-flavored ramen from famed ramen shop Afuri.
Japan Airlines sushi counter.
Courtesy of Japan Airlines
Turkish Airlines’ new lounge in Istanbul showcases 38 pieces of modern art from the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art; it will be updated three times a year.
And to celebrate Belgian pralines, Brussels Airlines’ flagship lounge, The Loft, has a Neuhaus master chocolatier making customized pralines for travelers in Brussels to enjoy or take along as gifts.
Flights: Craft beer and farm-to-table meals
Wine has always been a priority in premium cabins, but craft beer is having an in-flight moment.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines now serves more than a dozen types of craft beer from Copenhagen microbrewery Mikkeller. The beer is designed exclusively for flights, with high elevation and cabin conditions — such as pressure, oxygen and humidity — in mind. Cathay Pacific offers its own craft brew called Betsy Beer, which was created for high altitudes as well.
Singapore Airlines’ AeroFarm facility.
Courtesy of AeroFarm
Singapore Airlines is working with the vertical farming company AeroFarms to bring farm-to-table ingredients onboard. A facility near Newark airport creates the equivalent of 390 acres of fresh produce to support the airline’s Newark to Singapore flight.
Grown aeroponically, the produce is grown in a matter of days with 95% less water and a fraction of the fertilizers of conventional farming, according to AeroFarms.
When it comes to sleep, Cathay Pacific first-class passengers can choose from a pillow menu while enjoying new bedding with 600-thread count linens. Business class passengers can sleep more soundly with a new mattress pad and two-piece duvet.
Cathay Pacific luxury bedding.
Courtesy of Cathay Pacific
Air New Zealand passengers flying to and from Chicago can enjoy a special cooling pillow with Outlast technology — the same material NASA uses in astronaut gloves to keep hands cool.
In a first for a U.S. carrier, Hawaiian Airlines is using technology to give scientists real-time access to pollution levels over vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. And on the plane, Hawaiian is airing an in-flight video to educate visitors on the impact of sunscreen on Hawaii’s coral reefs.
Airports: Jazz bands and first-class seats up for bids
United fliers have a new way to exchange currencies and score bonus miles. In connection with Travelex, passengers can earn miles for currency exchanges — both in the airport or online — so they can arrive in a foreign country with local currency in hand.
Live jazz at New Orleans’ new airport.
Courtesy of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
At the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, travelers are welcomed via a “jazz garden” with live bands performing in the baggage claim area. Travelers can also avoid long lines in the city by stopping for Café du Monde’s famous beignets in the terminal.
Etihad Airways is trialing autonomous wheelchairs in Abu Dhabi which will eliminate the need for porters; the wheelchairs feature sensors to detect obstructions.
Etihad’s autonomous wheelchairs.
Courtesy of Etihad Airways
TAP Air Portugal is making it easier to score a business class seat for less. Travelers can bid on business class upgrades within 24 hours of a flight and up until departure via the SeatBoost app.
Bidders can follow the auction live and make a last-minute bid at the gate to get a first-class upgrade for as low as $200.