Two new wide-body planes, the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787, have bigger windows that let in more natural light, bathrooms that don’t feel claustrophobic, and mood lighting that can limit jet lag (no, seriously).
They even pump those babies with better cabin air that’s more humid and less dehydrating. But the biggest improvement may be what they’ve taken away. “The number one feedback we get is about the lack of noise,” says Juha Järvinen, chief commercial officer of Finnair, which currently has seven A350s, each of which seats 297 passengers.
Long-haul carriers like Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines have ordered a combined 255 A350s, recognizing that, if they can make the in-flight experience more comfortable, passengers will go just about anywhere.
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“Routes that were considered long-haul in the past? They’re not that long anymore,” says Marisa Lucas-Ugena, head of A350 XWB marketing at Airbus. “We’re going to see the emerging markets—particularly in the Southern Hemisphere—connected. Oakland to Santiago, Johannesburg to Sydney. The A350 was built with that in mind.”
It’s also made with weight-saving composites and is equipped with fuel-sipping engines that make ultra-long-hauls economically viable for carriers.
Singapore, for example, ended its reportedly unprofitable nonstop between New York and Singapore in 2013, but the route will return in 2018, thanks to the A350, shaving at least four hours off the current one-stop travel time. United has ordered 35 of the planes, which it plans to use for long flights to Asia; Delta will get its first of 25 A350s next year, with destinations to be determined.
Airbus forecasts global demand for new wide-bodies will top 8,000 over the next 20 years, meaning thousands more A350s and 787s in the air—and far fewer complaints upon touchdown.