Ten ways flying today is better than it used to be

What would the ultimate airline experience look like?

An airline with the best food, service and seats in the world? Traveller.com.au's writers name what their dream plane would feature.

Last week we looked six ways air travel is worse than it used to be. But flying in 2017 is not all bad news.

Misty-eyed nostalgia for the service, seats, the light-over-easy security checks of two decades ago is all very well but it's not accurate. We've come a long way since then, and there are quite a few ways air travel has improved. Here are 10.

More carriers

Two decades ago the only Middle Eastern carrier flying into Australia was Gulf Air, which operated flights to Sydney and Melbourne from its Bahrain hub. Now there are three, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, rated among the world's best airlines. Today there are seven China-based airlines flying to at least one Australian city. Twenty years ago that figure was zero.

European carriers have gone in the other direction. Back then aircraft sporting the liveries of KLM, Olympic, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Lauda Air could be seen parked at Australian terminals, none of which are in evidence at any of our airports these days. These new carriers have ushered in a new era in travel with more airline hubs and routes to choose from, and competition that keeps prices low.

Emirates is the largest customer for the Airbus A380.

Emirates was named the world's best airline by Skytrax in 2016.

See also: World's best airlines named

Ticket pricing

In 1997 the cheapest airfare from east coast Australia to the UK was just short of $2000. For an employee on the average weekly wage that represented about three weeks' full-time work.

Today you can buy that same air ticket for less than $1516, the average weekly wage for a full-time worker. Next time the meal trolley rumbles down the aisle and the hostie flings you an eggplant parmigiana with the taste and consistency of warm cardboard you might ponder your good fortune.

Inflight entertainment

The first seat-back screen was a tiny 2.7 inch LCD that airlines rolled out in 1988, but only in their first-class cabins. A decade later seat-back screens had become standard on the major carriers across all classes but screens were smaller than the modern touch-screen, seat-back screen of 2017, with a more restricted choice than the personal on-demand videos, television and games and flight maps that today's flyer expects.


Although the inflight entertainment system might distract you from the fact that your body is bent like a pretzel, there are downsides. One is having to put up with the guy in the next seat LOLing very hard while watching Tropic Thunder.

Another is the techno semi-literate in the seat behind doing a woodpecker act on the touch screen and jabbing you in the back. The Inflight entertainment game is changing yet again, with some airlines turning away from seat-back screens to systems that stream content to passengers' phones and tablets.

The inflight entertainment monitors in economy class on the Qatar Airways A380.

Photo: Bloomberg

See: Why the seatback entertainment screen is dead


Something not to miss. In the bad old days planes stank, and smoking was the reason. Smokers were usually quarantined but while the air conditioning system filtered the smoke it also distributed the odour evenly around the cabin.

On flights to foreign parts you got to smell some of the exotic fragrances that the rest of the world sucks into its lungs - clove-scented kretek in Indonesia, Double Happiness in China, Gauloises in France. If you happened to be a non-smoker seated adjacent to the smoking section coughing was not optional. The smoke began to clear in the mid-1990s when airlines around the world were banning smoking.

In 2000, when President Bill Clinton signed legislation that prohibited smoking on every flight into and out of the US it was game over. Well, almost. Amy Winehouse once spent half of a London to Glasgow flight smoking in the loo while flight crew banged on the door.

Passengers enjoy a relaxing smoke on a Transocean Air lines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in the mid 1950's. Transocean Air lines flew between 1946 and 1962 and was a pioneer discount airline.

Passengers enjoy a relaxing smoke on a Transocean Air lines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in the mid 1950s. Photo: Getty Images

See also: No smoking on planes - so why do they still have ashtrays?

Inflight Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi first became available on commercial aircraft a little over a decade ago, today it's expected that you can log in to the internet when you fly with a leading carrier.

Broadband W-Fi is on the horizon with Qantas promising Wi-Fi at video streaming speeds this year using NBN satellites, which limits its use to Qantas' domestic Australian services. Other airlines such as Emirates use an network of satellites to deliver inflight Wi-Fi around the globe.

British Airways plans to introduce high speed satellite-delivered 2Ku Wi-Fi to many of its aircraft operating on international routes this year.

Business is better

It's better than ever at the pointy end. Fly with a premium airline and you can expect a cushy lounge with great food, nice wines and expedited immigration clearance among the perks .

On a long-haul business class flight aboard a legacy carrier your seat converts to a lie-flat bed, you get a large video screen, noise cancelling headphones, charger ports, flexible lighting options and privacy screens. All of which makes the first class of 1997 so yesterday, and the reason why many airlines have scuttled their first-class cabins.

<b>Singapore Airlines</b><br>
Next level luxury, Singapore Airlines offer a Business Class like no other.

Who need first? Singapore Airlines' business class.

See also: The best seats in business class

Better aircraft

The new generation of aircraft exemplified by Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 XWB are constructed extensively from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer. CFRP doesn't corrode or suffer from fatigue to the same extent as a traditional aluminium fuselage and that allows the cabin to tolerate higher pressure.

In effect, you're subject to pressure about 2000 feet lower than in an older style airliner, which means more oxygen in your lungs, more moisture in the air and a more comfortable flight.

Baggage allowance

Back then, as an economy flyer, 20kgs of checked-in luggage was all you got, and just one bag. Today it's 30kgs when you fly with the premier Asian carriers and the big three Gulf State carriers, 23 kg on many others.


We're safer in the skies than ever before, and getting safer all the time. According to the Aviation Safety Network, 258 people died in crashes aboard commercial aircraft capable of carrying 14 or more passengers in 2016. That's one fatality for every 13.3 million passengers who flew that year. Twenty years before that figure was 1843 deaths, or one for every 753,000 passengers.

As a ratio of deaths against the number of passengers, that makes 2016 the safest year on record. Neither 2016 nor 1996 were exceptional. Both follow the trend which has seen relatively fewer passenger fatalities year by year.

See also: World's safest airlines named in annual rankings

Marathon runners

New generation aircraft are shrinking the world with longer non-stop flights. Current record holder is Air India's 15,300 km marathon between Delhi and San Francisco followed by Emirates' 14,193 km service between Dubai and Auckland. Qantas is in third spot with its 13,800km Sydney-Dallas flights.

Toward the end of 2016 Qantas announced a non-stop Perth to London service to commence in March 2018, the first no-stops commercial flight between Australia and London. Whether you want to spend 14-plus hours on the same flight is another question, and you do have other choices.

See also: Qantas non-stop Perth to London flight is not without problems

See also: Six ways flying is worse now than it was 20 years ago

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