Women-only toilets, sky nannies and meals created by celebrity chefs - in economy? The days of cramped and crowded economy cabins may be on the decline as airlines are adopting new approaches in order to cure common economy class complaints.
At Flight Centre we have scanned the skies to find five new initiatives that will make a big difference to your next economy flight.
Naturally, there's a temptation for airlines to cram as many paying passengers as possible into the economy class cabin. Some airlines however are starting to offer alternatives for long-limbed customers and those who simply want to stretch out a little further during their journeys. Options include exit row seats and extra legroom seats in dedicated sections within the economy class cabin. American Airlines is one of the latest airlines to opt for the latter strategy and will introduce a Main Cabin Extra feature that offers passengers an additional "four to six inches" of legroom. Domestically both Virgin Australia and Jetstar offer an option to pre-purchase the coveted exit row seats at time of booking.
The Meal High Club
The standard of in-flight cuisine has long been a talking point for travellers. The good news is that some airlines are appealing to travellers' tastebuds by serving up improved air "fare" in the form of cuisine designed by famous chefs and restaurateurs. Virgin Australia's on-board menu was designed by leading Australian chef Luke Mangan, while Neil Perry designed Qantas’ in-flight and lounge menu. Gordon Ramsay and Australia’s Matthew Moran are part of Singapore Airlines' culinary panel, along with French master chef Georges Blanc.
Ryanair, the Irish-based airline that once contemplated charging passengers for in-flight bathroom use (a "user pees" system), made headlines recently when it said it was considering removing all but one of the toilets on each of its planes to allow more seats to be fitted. Thankfully, other airlines are taking the opposite approach. Several Asian carriers, including Korean Air and All Nippon, plus Virgin Australia long haul have now introduced women-only toilets on some services. Further changes could be on the way, with a German design company reportedly developing plans for in-flight urinals.
Help with the kids
Travelling with kids is not always easy - for parents or for other travellers. Gulf Air now offers an innovative Sky Nanny service "to help families travelling with children - and those passengers who aren't". The free service is available in some lounges and on various long haul routes and is designed to help families board and disembark, give parents a break during a flight and generally provide a watchful eye on the little ones.
No more check-in queues
In the new age of air travel, chances are you won't have to waste hours waiting in the cheque-in queue at the airport. Airlines now commonly offer alternatives, including curb-side or city centre check-in plus on-line check-in. Airlines have also been quick to capitalise on the popularity of smart phones, with many now allowing travellers to access boarding passes from blackberries, I-phones and other devices. Qantas has been at the forefront of developments, pioneering a new check-in system that eliminates the need for printed documents. New Qantas cards with intelligent Q chips have been sent to the airline’s Platinum, Gold and Silver Frequent Flyer members. To check-in, travellers simply touch the cards at Q Card Readers.