Coming soon: The five best innovations in air travel

HALF-STANDING SEATS

In the constant drive to offer yet lower seat prices, at least one carrier is talking up the possibility of installing half-standing seats. Mexican low-cost carrier VivaAerobus is the latest to put the topic on the table, although several other LCCs have flirted with the idea. VivaAerobus has already sacrificed half its galleys to increase seat density on its A320s. The main sticking point is safety. So tight are these seats that emergency evacuation is a problem, and no regulatory authority has yet shown any enthusiasm.

MARATHON FLIGHTS

Next year the Airbus A350-900ULR, the world's longest-range aircraft, will make its debut in Singapore Airlines colours, flying non-stop between Singapore and New York. This will be the world's longest flight at about 19 hours. The aircraft is a variant of the A350-900, created specifically to meet the needs of Singapore Airlines, which remains the only customer for the marathon runner. Even the awesome range of the A350-900ULR is just a shade too short to fulfil Qantas' dream of a non-stop flight from east coast Australia to London.

SUPERSONIC FLIGHT

Off the radar since Concorde last took to the skies in 2003, supersonic aircraft are showing signs of life. Boeing and Airbus have both flagged interest and another serious contender is Boom, which is working to develop a supersonic aircraft with fares 75 per cent lower than Concorde, flying 2½ times faster than current airliners. In 2018 Boom is planning to test fly its XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, a ⅓ scale version of the Boom passenger aircraft. Australian flyers, who face some of the longest flights to get to popular destinations in Europe and the Americas, would be among the major beneficiaries.

RFID BAGGAGE TAGGING

Mishandled bags cost the airline industry $US2.1 billion in 2016, but new baggage tagging systems with radio frequency identification chips should help slash that cost. RFID tags look much the same as traditional barcoded tags but they hold far more information, and they can be scanned using sensors in baggage handling areas and cargo bays, enabling tracking across key waypoints from the time they disappear at the check-in desk to the time they emerge on the baggage carousel.

DON'T SMILE, PLEASE

British Airways has ramped up airport security with the introduction of facial-recognition scanners at London Heathrow's Terminal 5. Biometric imaging technology at the main security scanning area captures each passenger's features along with the boarding pass and a facial scan at the boarding gate matches the two scans, verifying the traveller's identity. Boarding is faster since passengers don't have to show passports, and security is enhanced since the person who checked in is the same as the one boarding the aircraft. Expect more airports to follow.

DRIVERLESS CARS

Your own set of wheels is a wonderful way to explore foreign places but too often it's the driver who misses out. Mountain scenery, beaches, gorgeous little villages, all lost in the need to focus on the road, and getting behind the wheel in a city like Rome or London is no fun at all. Enter the driverless car. It pilots itself, finds its own way, you can chat to it and find out how long to your destination and you'll probably get voice alerts to indicate points of interest, dining and toilet stops along the way. Business Insider Intelligence is predicting fully autonomous driverless cars on the road by 2019. Europe will be at the forefront and if all goes well, expect the take-up rate to be phenomenal, including in the car-hire industry. It's liberation for all, and you can probably read a book, mix up a cocktail or watch a movie during the boring bits. Bring it on.

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