The sky’s the limit: Airline extras changing the game

Airlines are putting in the hard yards to offer a smorgasbord of fun, functional, and customer-pleasing travel innovations to enhance your air travel experience.

Airline offerings have increased to create more personalized experiences. Image credit: guvendemir/iStock
Airline offerings have increased to create more personalized experiences. Image credit: guvendemir/iStock

The world’s first-ever commercial flight, which flew between the Floridian cities of Tampa and St.Petersburg in 1914, was a humble affair. A single paying passenger sat alongside the pilot on a hard wooden bench seat at the mercy of the elements in an open-top “air-boat”. To these industry pioneers, the idea of first-class and business-class, or the concept of having cocktails and piping-hot food delivered to your comfy, reclining seat, must have been inconceivable.

Now that we’ve become accustomed to such a high level of comfort and style while traveling, airlines must continuously dream up new and exciting innovations, to attract customers and stay ahead in an ever-crowded industry airspace. The idea of a perfect flight varies greatly from person to person and airlines are doing their best to please more and more customers, offering a diverse and tailorable range of services.

We’ve highlighted a few of the interesting travel innovations and optional extras currently being offered by airlines in their bid to personalize your journey and make your travel experiences a little more extraordinary.

Air New Zealand – Cuddle class and chat

Air New Zealand’s Skycouch, affectionately dubbed “cuddle class”, allows couples and families traveling together in economy to convert their seats into a comfy couch after takeoff. 

SkyCouch is carefully designed so you can lay back and relax together without pesky arm-rests and lumpy seat corners getting in your way, with extra bedding and pillows. SkyCouch does cost a little more but is a welcome option for those who want extra comfort without upgrading to business class.

Those flying Air New Zealand can also pass the time with one of the airline’s quirkier offerings called seat chat. Seat chat is basically an in-flight messenger service akin to Whatsapp, which allows passengers to communicate with friends and family seated elsewhere on their flight. Considering you’re able to send messages to anyone based on their seat number, it’s also an amusing way of getting insider info on the current location of the drinks cart.

Qantas Airways – Explore your destination before arrival with VR

One of Qantas Airways’ latest travel innovations allows customers to take a helicopter ride over Uluru, cruise over Alice Springs in a hot air balloon, or climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, all from the comfort of their seats.

The airline’s virtual reality app, Qantas VR, showcases Australia’s breathtaking landscapes through a series of immersive videos and experiences and is available for both iPhone and Android smartphones, as well as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR devices.

If you, like most, don’t own your own VR headset, then you can make use of Qantas’s foldable cardboard VR goggles, or “Qantas Cardboard” as they are referred to by the airline. You can request a pair both on-board or in Qantas lounges, and test out this extremely cool and futuristic technology with your humble smartphone.

Turkish Airlines – On-board chefs

While airlines are putting a lot more thought and effort into creating delicious airline meals, most of the time, meals are still served prepackaged.

However, if you fly business class with Turkish Airlines, you can enjoy meals that have been meticulously prepared and individually plated on board, by a specially trained “flying chef”. As well as managing meal services on board, Turkish Airlines Flying Chefs are also involved in the preparation of food, which is cooked before takeoff at airport adjacent catering kitchens, meaning they are well equipped to answer any food-related questions.

Meals are assembled just moments before you eat on restaurant-quality dishes, meaning pickier passengers are spared mushy homogenous meals, where ingredients and flavors have blended into one another.

Enjoy a dine dining experience in the sky. Image credit: Fabian Gysel/iStock
Enjoy a fine dining experience in the sky. Image credit: Fabian Gysel/iStock

JetBlue – ‘JetPaws’ pet program

While flying with pets is possible with a number of carriers both within the U.S. and abroad, it’s sometimes hard to figure out the exact rules for each airline and destination. Additionally, pet owners are often required to personally contact and notify the airline ahead of time, which can be a major hassle. JetBlue has attempted to remedy this issue by creating its own JetPaws program.

The airline has put a lot of work into streamlining the process of traveling with pets, giving customers the ability to easily add them to their booking during the checkout process. Rules and regulations are clearly stated on their website, and pets can travel along with their owners in the main cabin as long as they meet certain weight restrictions, and are housed within an FAA-approved pet carrier.

If you’re flying out of JFK’s Terminal 5, JetBlue even offers a post-security “Wooftop Terrace”, so pets can do their business and stretch their legs before boarding.

Emirates – First-class shower suites

If you’re one of the 24 first-class passengers on board an Emirates Boeing A380 aircraft, then you can make use of two luxurious, and fully kitted out Shower Spas.

And if you’re imagining a poky little space, akin to your average aircraft bathroom, then you couldn’t be more wrong. Within the Emirates shower suite, guests can enjoy a spacious and fully enclosed shower, a large marble basin and mirror, and shelves stocked with fluffy white towels and exclusive Bulgari shampoos and soaps.

Soon after takeoff, a flight attendant makes the rounds, booking each first-class passenger a 30-minute slot in the shower spa at a time of their choosing. Post-shower, guests are served a fresh fruit platter, accompanied by tea or a hydrating aloe vera juice. Bliss.

Eva Air – Hello Kitty-themed flights

Taiwanese airline Eva Air caused quite a stir back in 2011 with the launch of their fully themed Hello Kitty flights. If you’re traveling with kids or looking for a truly quirky air travel experience, then this is the flight for you. Every aspect of the flight is themed, emblazoned with the popular Japanese cartoon character and her jauntily placed pink bow, including boarding passes, food, staff uniforms, plane interiors, and livery. Even check-in screens and luggage tickets feature Hello Kitty, or one of her equally adorable cartoon friends.

While it’s still to be seen if EVA’s Hello Kitty flights will stand the test of time, the airline recently extended its themed service to include even more U.S. destinations, which is more than a positive sign. Gimmicky? Sure. But considering Eva Air is a certified Skytrax five-star airline, and ranked #6 on the website’s best airlines for 2019, they can probably afford to have a little fun.


Grace Catherine

Grace is a freelance writer and digital project manager from New Zealand currently based in Mexico City. She is an avid traveler who loves destinations with an eclectic history, a bike-sharing scheme, and plenty of cool animals.