The 'Future' of Airline Travel


A typical customer of the future is on his communication device, trying to change a plane reservation.

"Hello, Mr. Anderson. Thank you for choosing OneWorld 2011 Airlines. How can I help you this evening?" The online digital customer service rep's voice is slightly robotic, but alluring.

"Well," Mr. Anderson says, staring at the pixel-woman on the screen in front of him. "I need to change my flight from Wednesday to Friday."

"Very good, Mr. Anderson," the digi-rep says. "Report to the Rollerball court at 0300 hours. If you are successful in utilizing this quasi-futuristic bloodsport to hurl your carry-on bag past the android attendants and into the correct bin, and you pay the change fee of $550, we'll be happy to book you on that Friday flight."

Is this the future? With oil prices on the rise, airlines adding new fees on what seems like a daily basis and dropping customer service scores, insiders, experts and average travelers have begun to prognosticate, trying to read the "signs" to see where all this is heading.

I have to admit that future-of-air-travel-type questions always bring out the movie buff in me. "Rollerball" came instantly to mind; then, after seeing a news segment on the airlines called "Doomsday Oil Scenario," I immediately envisioned a "Mad Max" situation where fuel was the last surviving currency, and we all started wearing spiked football pads.

Of course, things aren't quite that bleak yet, but we are starting to glimpse trends that could significantly alter the way we fly in the not-too-distant-future. I thought it might be fun to take a look at six possible scenarios. Some are truly Hollywood-worthy, but others aren't as far-out as you might think …

1. Air Travel: Rich People Only

With the Delta-Northwest merger, the recent alliance between Continental and United and more potential mergers on the horizon, we're seeing a reduction in the number of major carriers. Perhaps we're moving toward the "single airline" domestic market that some futurists predict.

However, even if we wind up with more than one airline, past mergers have meant reduced competition, reduced routes and higher ticket prices. Couple this with rising fuel surcharges, taxes and fees, and we could be staring at air travel costs that are simply out of reach for all but a few. While this "futuristic" scenario is alarming, it's actually a throwback to an earlier era, when commercial air travel was the domain of the wealthy.

Now, if we could just get airlines to treat customers as royally as they did back then, that would be something.

2. The Vacuum Bag Carry-On

As fees for checking even a single bag become the norm, the cost of transporting your luggage will continue to rise. Travelers will be forced to carry on as much as they possibly can while still adhering to "maximum carry-on bag" rules.

To do this, they will turn to -- the vacuum bag. You know, those sucking devices that are advertised on late-night TV, allowing you to store 300 sweaters under your bed. Vacuum bags will allow you to carry on all you want and leave the checked-bag fees to those unfortunate few who cling to the inefficient bags of yore.

Plus, the vacuum bags are clear, so that might speed things up at the security lines.

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