The Future Of Travel: Holograms In The Airport, Bedrooms In The Sky, And Near-Instant Security Checks

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In the future, travelers will enjoy amenities like yoga at the airport and digital luggage check-in.

The next time you travel via plane, imagine a world where heading to the airport is like going to a spa. Instead of standing in a long line to check your bags, you arrive at the airport to order a coffee. While the milk in your espresso is frothing, you remotely check your luggage with a digital tag that stores your boarding pass information and destination and synchs it with your smartphone.

Next, you whiz through security in seconds, thanks to facial recognition software and biometric scanning in lieu of presenting a paper passport. As you make your way through the terminal, you are delighted by stunning artwork and multimedia displays. A cool breeze wafts through the air, courtesy of the outdoor terrace in the middle of the terminal. You stop in a virtual pavilion for a quick yoga workout before settling into a seat that molds to your body shape — all while relaxing in a lounge that mimics a rainforest. When your flight is ready, a hologram of an airport staff member guides you to your gate.

Most harried modern travelers would scoff at this scenario as a pie-in-the-sky dream. But according to travel search site Skyscanner, this could be your actual travel experience in just 10 years. The company on Monday released the second part of its “Future of Travel” report, in which it explores what travel will be like in 2024. 

A team of 56 editors, researchers and travel experts across the world compiled the report. The current release looks at the airplanes and airports of the future. The first part, released in April, examined the planning and booking trends of the future. Many of the report’s predictions are based on technologies that are emerging in airports and airlines around the world.

“Advances in technology and shifts in economic and political power will ultimately redefine the travel industry,” Filip Filipov, the head of B2B at Skyscanner, said. As a result, future travelers can expect a new kind of airport in which mobile check-ins, digital bag tags and biometric software and IDs will streamline the check-in experience. Airports themselves will be more intelligently designed and even become an intrinsic part of the vacation experience, while flights of the future will morph into “relaxing cyber hubs” that will be segmented into areas for relaxing, dining or mingling with other passengers.  

“In some shape or form, many of these technologies are already in existence, while others are being developed,” Filipov said. British Airways and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT), for example, are collaborating on tests of personalized, smartphone-activated digital bag tags.

Singapore’s Changi Airport’s T4 terminal, which is due to open in 2017, is expected to offer biometric scanning and self-service check-ins. And the current state of its airport is already considered an exciting destination itself, featuring outdoor spaces, waterfalls, a rooftop swimming pool and gardens. By the next decade, more and more airports will be following — and surpassing — Singapore’s lead, said Filipov.

And what of the airplanes themselves? Travelers can expect memory foam-style seating that will fit their body shape, lighting designed to eliminate the effects of jetlag, individualized climate control and advanced entertainment and communication hubs at every seat. And many planes will offer segmented cabins where passengers can find bedrooms to rest in and lounges to mingle. Airbus SA has already designed a "concept cabin" that it says prefigures the advent of a different kind of flying experience. 

Of course, none of these advancements will come for free, while other changes, like facial recognition, could face regulatory barriers. But ultimately, argues Filipov, airports will be forced to keep up to stay competitive.

“Future passengers will receive a more customized experience that will evolve into an enjoyable and inspiring travel journey from start to finish,” he said. 

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