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From new business class seats to the Japanese 'podosphere', here is everything we love about air travel right now.
DECENT AIRPORT STAYS
Layovers have long been a painful experience, thanks to barebones airport hotels. But a new spate of accommodations no longer offer just a spartan bed but all the amenities you'd expect from city-centre equivalents, including bicycle rentals, swimming pools, spas and posh restaurants. Luxe brands now appearing at airports include Sofitel (London), Hyatt (Dallas) and Fairmont (Vancouver), while a host of more budget brands are also providing stylish sleeps. See sofitel.com, dfwairport.hyatt.com, fairmont.com
LOW-COST CARRIER FLYING DREAMLINERS
Flying in the cheap seats just got better as the low-cost carriers working Australian routes ramp up their Dreamliner fleets. The new aviation technology of Boeing 787 Dreamliners gives everyone (not just first class) a smoother ride, larger windows and comfier seats. There's also less engine noise, in-seat power and better cabin air quality throughout. And being faster and less fuel hungry than rival aircraft ostensibly means cheaper fares for all.
NEW UK ENTRY OPTIONS
Flying into Heathrow has always been an unpleasant nuisance if London isn't your intended UK destination. But an increasing array of options into regional British airports means it can be bypassed. Cathay Pacific joined Singapore Airlines and the Middle Eastern carriers in flying to Manchester last December. But most interesting is Etihad's new route into Edinburgh via Abu Dhabi, which kicks off this month. See cathaypacific.com; etihad.com
It's had its fair share of bad press and its service is certainly on the no-frills side, but there's a lot to like about Tiger Air. Since being forcibly grounded by CASA in 2011, and then being acquired by Virgin Australia, the budget carrier has markedly lifted its game, and now provides a reliable, cheap service between many of Australia's major cities. See tigerair.com
BOEING SPACE BIN
One of the nightmares of modern air travel - fighting other passengers for overhead space – just got a little less distressing with the invention of Boeing Space Bins for the 737, which offer 50 per cent more space for bags as well as a lower bin lip, making it easier to see inside. Alaska Airlines is the launch partner, but it's only a matter of time before this welcome alteration is retrofit on airlines everywhere. See boeing.com; alaskaair.com
ETIHAD'S NEW DESTINATIONS
The Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad has continued its aggressive expansion this year, acquiring large stakes in struggling airlines (most notably Italian carrier Alitalia) but also securing direct routes around the world. Those west of Abu Dhabi include: Entebbe, Uganda; Edinburgh, Scotland; Algiers, Algeria; and Madrid, Spain. Added to that, there's a brand-new route to Brisbane – connectivity through the Middle East continues to grow and grow. See etihad.com
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS ON LOW-COST-CARRIERS
Who doesn't love turning left when you enter the plane? With the rise of a premium class on the low-cost carriers, that schlep to Asia just got a whole lot more comfortable. Don't go in search of lie-flat beds or free-pour champagne, but rather the more spacious surrounds, broader reclining seats and queue-jumping perks of the low-cost carriers' "business" class, which come with extremely reasonable price tags. See www.flyscoot.com, www.jetstar.com
HARTSFIELD-JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL, US
What is it with American airports? All those queues, lining up to be scanned and scrutinised; all those cumbersome transfers and fast-food restaurants. There is an exception: the delightful Hartsfield-Jackson Airportin Atlanta. There is rarely a queue for the electronic kiosks, where you can scan your passport and fingers and stroll into the country. The rail shuttle makes travel between terminals easy, and dining options include some real delights. Give these people a prize. See atlanta-airport.com
BYO INFLIGHT MEALS
No matter which celebrity heads up the inflight catering – Neil Perry, Alain Ducasse, Nobu Matsuhisa - somehow the star quality doesn't transfer to meals delivered at 30,000 feet. Which is why BYO inflight meals are a revelation. From Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food to Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar, and Heston Blumenthal's the Perfectionist Cafe, Heathrow Airport offers bespoke "take onboard" hampers. Alternatively, grab something from Wolfgang Puck Express outlets across numerous US airports or tuck into a sushi express pack from Hinata at Sydney International Airport. Caviar in economy anyone? See gordonramsay.com/planefood; theperfectionistscafe.com; wolfgangpuck.com
EASIER AIR ACCESS TO SOUTH AMERICA
It's never been easier or cheaper to get to what was once a prohibitively difficult continent for travellers to access, thanks to increased competition. From December this year, Air New Zealand will fly direct from Auckland to Buenos Aires, adding to Qantas' direct Sydney to Santiago service, as well as LAN's daily Sydney-Auckland-Santiago flights on brand new 787 Dreamliners. For travellers, it's win-win. See airnewzealand.com.au; qantas.com; lan.com
Inspired by Japan's snug capsule hotels, sleeping pods are popping up at airports, offering quiet and modest comfort for travellers with several hours of layover time. Upper-end pods, such as the Yotel at London's Heathrow and Gatwick, offer a workstation, flat-screen TV, bed and shower; in squeezier versions, such as the GoSleep pods at Abu Dhabi Airport, it's just a bed with a roll-top screen for privacy. See gosleep.aero
Increasingly, premium economy feels like the business class of old, but without the hefty price tag. Qantas, Air New Zealand and Turkish Airlines offer some of the best premium economy products in the sky (Air New Zealand won "World's Best Premium Economy Class" at the 2014 Skytrax World Airline Awards; Qantas picked up "Best Premium Economy Class Catering"). Singapore Airlines meanwhile will debut its premium economy on Sydney flights from August. With more legroom, separate cabin typically placed between business and economy, better food, comfier seats and attentive service, what's not to love? See qantas.com; airnewzealand.com.au; singaporeair.com.
QANTAS' NEW BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
Feeling all Greta Garbo? Well, has Qantas got a seat for you. After emerging from a financial wind-shear of epic proportions, the airline launched a new Marc Newson-designed business class seat big on comfort and privacy. The "I want to be alone" factor even extends to a hotel-style "Do not disturb" sign to prevent unwanted interruptions such as a the topping up of champagne flutes and extra lashings of Neil Perry-sanctioned morsels. The seat may have attracted criticism from couples and families who want to be together but with privacy being an increasingly important part of travel, Qantas looks to be on a winner. See qantas.com.
ETIHAD'S RESIDENCE CLASS
If you either (a) have a spare $26,000 burning a hole in your pocket or (b) follow everything that Nicole Kidman has to say, then it's high time you booked yourself on Etihad's new class of travel, the Residence. As promoted by the red-headed actress, the Residence is effectively an apartment in the sky, complete with a living room, shower and bed. Found only on the A380 (and Etihad only has two) it's as rare as it is expensive. See etihad.com
What's been your favourite development in the world of air travel recently? Post your comments below.