Given that my colleague Robert T. Buckman is Amadeus's in-house airline futurist and given that Robert blogs weekly on that topic, I predict he will think I'm stealing his thunder with a column that foresees the future of air travel.
But hey, competition is good. Moreover, competition is at the root of how things will change, as Robert would say, in the air up there. What's driving that competition is the road warrior's thirst for choice, choice, choice.
Air travel is undergoing a metamorphosis. The main reason is that air travelers themselves are changing and road warriors top the list of change agents. We are becoming more tribal in our travel patterns, as evidenced in the findings of a recent study from Amadeus.
Entitled "Future Traveller Tribes 2020," the study says four key "tribes" will have influence on what air travel looks like in a decade-plus.
With that study as a point of departure and with choice as our unifying factor, here are five key ways I see business travel changing between now and the year 2020:
- The desire for personalized service will inspire innovation: This yen even now is utterly reshaping the business traveler's world. Air carriers will become far more serious (and effective) in selling road warriors ever-more-individualized services. Other suppliers will create products that will make what we use today seem like something from the Stone Age. In fact, I predict the biggest problem that business travelers may experience a decade hence will be choosing from among a dizzying array of solutions designed just for them.
- Productivity will skyrocket: All business class airlines will deliver a flight environment that will enable you and me to be productive beyond our wildest dreams. Yes, we will have Internet access in the sky and yes, someone will brainstorm a way for you to connect via your cellphone without driving your seatmates crazy. PDAs will become more powerful, while lack of power sources will no longer be an issue. In fact, your biggest problem may be that you'll be working too hard.
- Airframes will come in every shape and size: Road warriors of the future will see an amazing array of choices in the airplanes they choose to fly. With new jets like the super-jumbo A380 and the super-efficient 787 coming on-stream -- not to mention the dedicated business airlines like Eos and MAXjet -- along with the rise of "air taxis" from nonhub airports, road warriors can kiss today's "one size fits all" world goodbye. With so many options, future travelers will find themselves continuously weighing cost vs. convenience.
- The booking process will become more transparent: By this I mean simply that booking tools on airlines' websites and on other travel sites will give you a far clearer picture of what the options are, and in real time. Choosing amenities and deciding on departure times will become far easier, even though your selections will proliferate. In an a la carte world, you, the traveler, will be in the pilot's seat. No more will we be forced to pay for services we don't want. Air travel of the future will be a buyer's market.
- Comfort will rule: As the population ages, the craving for comfort will steer the travel experience in unexpected ways. Airports will add stores catering to comfort. Airport clubs will become more the norm. New business kiosks will eliminate the mad dash for the nearest electrical outlet. Inside the plane, the traditional face-forward seating alignment will be replaced by a variety of lounge-type configurations. Airlines will pull out the stops to transform not only the way we sit, but in what we sit. Seats will become cushier and roomier and legroom more spacious.
Who knows? I even hold out hope that one day the plane will be a place where you can get a good night's rest.
On the other hand, I wouldn't lose any sleep over that last prediction.