It’s easy to be down on air travel these days—planes are packed, seats are shrinking, fees are frustrating and delays are maddening. But cheer up, people, it's not all bad news. Here are all the ways flying is actually getting better.
• It's more affordable and accessible than ever
This spring the number of passengers flying in the US will rise 2.8 percent to a record 140 million, according to industry group Airlines for America.
So what's the deal with the record rates? Flights to far-flung reaches of the globe and smaller towns are becoming increasingly more accessible – and cost-effective, according to chief economist John Heimlich from Airlines for America. "To meet the extra demand, carriers are deploying new and larger aircraft on many routes," he says.
• The food keeps getting better
Top-notch chefs curating inflight menus is nothing new, but this year's selections are really upping the ante. Air France recently announced that they'll be partnering with culinary whiz Daniel Boulud for Premiere and Business cabin meals, serving those on long-haul flights departing the US (think Atlantic Lobster, Curried Coconut Sauce, Black Rice and Bok Choy). Meanwhile, Delta has partnered with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. Menus by Chef Carmen Quagliata, executive chef of the group's flagship restaurant, Union Square Cafe, will be served on board Delta's JFK-to-Europe flights. Expect dishes like roasted tenderloin carpaccio with sunchokes and short rib stracotto with horseradish mashed potatoes and root vegetable slaw. Japan Airlines has secured Tokyo super star Jun Kurogi, whose washoku style focuses on simple seasoning to bring out natural flavors. Highlights: the sesame tofu from the chef's eponymous restaurant, Kurogi, and sea lettuce from the Shimanto River in the Kōchi prefecture.
• There are new routes to just about everywhere
This year domestic and international airlines are adding a tantalizing selection of flights to their schedules. A few to watch out for: American Airlines is expanding operations in Los Angeles, and in December they launched a new flight to Sydney and a new leg to Tokyo. Air Canada has a dozen routes on the horizon connecting their four hubs to American cities just in time for summer; expect service from Montreal to Philly on May 24, Denver on June 4, and Houston on June 6. Take a trip to Toronto with flights from Washington, D.C. starting May 2, Portland starting May 26, and Salt Lake City starting May 27. Lastly, Vancouver to San Diego launches June 2, followed by flights to Chicago taking off June 4. London calling? British Airways is adding another flight to New York City beginning May 1 and bringing Big Ben to San Jose, California, starting May 4. Other alluring destinations linking to London include Biarritz, France (starting May 1); Palma, Mallorca (starting May 28); and Tehran, Iran (starting July 14).
• Passenger rights are finally being taken seriously
Attention frequent fliers: Congress may actually act to protect airline passengers! If passed, an airline policy bill introduced in early March would standardize the way carriers disclose fees for services like checked bags, seat assignments and ticket changes. It would also require airlines to refund fees for bags that are lost or delayed as well as for services purchased but not delivered, such as advance seat assignments or early boarding; so cross your fingers, friends.
RELATED: 7 Secret Passenger Rights
• Premium Economy is taking off
For those who still appreciate a little class in the sky (count us in), US carriers like Alaska and American will be incorporating premium economy seating. It's a step up from coach (and slightly more expensive), but with five to seven additional inches of legroom, free drinks, on-demand entertainment and noise-canceling headphones at a fraction of the cost of a business class ticket, it's worth it.
• Cabins are getting serious upgrades
Escaping far from the maddening crowd starts with a first class ticket, and airlines are rolling out more premium options than ever thanks to the space afforded by a new generation of airplanes.
Etihad Airways has taken its new Airbus A380 and literally turned it into a deluxe apartment in the sky with The Residence and First Apartments. Available on flights to and from Abu Dhabi, The Residence is the first flying three-room suite. There's a bedroom with a double bed, a living room with leather sofa and 32-inch flatscreen, and a shower suite stocked with plush robes. If you're flying solo, the First Apartment should suffice with a leather armchair, separate flat bed, and access to the shower in the first class bathroom.
Singapore Airlines skips first class all together with new Suites Class on its fleet of A380s. Shut the sliding doors, close the blinds and catch a flick on your flatscreen from a massive leather armchair hand-stitched by master Italian craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Dinner is served via Book the Cook service that allows you to pre-order a gourmet meal from a selection of 60 dishes designed by a panel of top chefs on the airline's International Culinary Panel. These suites guarantee sweet dreams on spacious double beds done up in silky smooth sheets.
If Emirates First Class Suites on their new A380s are good enough for Jennifer Aniston, they're good enough for us. Behind sliding doors each suite offers a high-tech entertainment system and seats that convert to spacious flat beds. An extensive a la carte menu is served whenever you wish on Royal Doulton bone china with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery. After a tasty meal, prepare for arrival in the Shower Spa stocked with a selection of Bvlgari toiletries.
RELATED: 10 Airlines to Watch
• Simple solutions are creating better travel experiences
Solar powered flight, space travel, hyper-sonic planes...yeah, that's all in the works. But it's the simple solutions that will improve your flight this year. Enter the Soarigami, a lightweight and portable armrest divider that politely but firmly establishes your space on a packed plane. Then there are advanced apps like MTT Concierge Live, an intelligent and contextual mobile travel assistant that integrates with existing airline apps, and of course, inflight Wi-fi, sometimes free, on major carriers.