The newest jets in the sky offer a range of creature comforts which will ensure you arrive ready for business.
By Chris Chamberlin
If you’ve never experienced the speedy check-in, the dedicated cabin with crisp white napery and the large screens on offer in business class, then put those airline rewards to good use and get yourself an upgrade. Business travel has come a long way since the iconic Boeing 747 first took wing almost 50 years ago.
The Airbus A350, Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 jets promise everything from fully flat beds and at-seat power through to sky-high wi-fi and flexible meal times to suit your schedule – and they’re quieter than ever before.
The Airbus A350 has one of the quietest cabins, thanks largely to its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. Typical ambient noise in the cabin at cruising altitude is 57 decibels, about equal to the volume of a normal conversation. The engines on Boeing’s 787 employ a fan to reduce that annoying buzzsaw noise and the new air-conditioning system is quieter than its predecessor.
The 787 and Airbus A350 XWB are constructed extensively from carbon fibre reinforced polymer which doesn’t corrode or suffer from fatigue to the same extent as a traditional aluminium fuselage. This allows the cabin to tolerate higher pressure.
In effect, passengers are subject to pressure equivalent to around 6000 feet, some 2000 feet lower than aboard older aircraft. What’s the effect? More oxygen in your lungs and more moisture in the air. Higher humidity levels – 6 to 7 per cent in newer aircraft, up from 2 per cent in earlier generation models – reduce fatigue and increase passenger comfort because the air is less dry.
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Better lighting for work, rest and play
Forget the days when bright, fluorescent cabin lights were switched on, off or merely dimmed – the 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350 and A380 aircraft each have computerised LED lighting which can produce more than 16 million colours and replicate a progressive morning sunrise, blue sky overhead, twilight, moonlight and more.
That’s useful: passengers can wake in the morning or drift to sleep because the cabin lighting creates an environment that invites their body clocks to do so. During the day, when productivity is key, lighting the cabin like it’s a blue-sky day creates an atmosphere much more in line with your office on the ground.
All travellers on Boeing 787s can take that one step further by choosing exactly how much sunlight creeps in through the windows nearby, not by pulling down a window shade but by adjusting the electrochromic dimmer, which blocks intense rays to avoid glare on your laptop while leaving outside views intact.
Aircraft manufacturers now make AC and USB power standard, which makes working inflight so much easier. Airlines are gradually upgrading their fleets. However, don’t expect wi-fi speeds like you’d get at home. Sending emails and connecting to the office network is usually painless, but transferring large files can be slow and expensive.
Hop aboard a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 and you’ll be billed US$1 per megabyte of data transmitted: yes, that’s a whopping US$1024 per gigabyte. Fly on a Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 and prices are capped at a more reasonable US$19.95 for unlimited data and time.
Emirates instead provides 10MB of free access with a further 500MB for just US$1, so always check the costs before keying in your credit card number, as pricing can vary wildly.
Dine when you choose
It’s frustrating for the busy business traveller when the inflight meal arrives just as you have settled into your work. Thankfully, airlines including Qatar, Cathay Pacific and Etihad, and to an extent Singapore Airlines, now offer “dine on demand” in business class, where you can order anything from their menu at any time.
Some travellers like to switch to the time zone of their destination as soon as they board to help flight recovery, and eating at the right time forms part of their plan.
Getting there fast
Aircraft are also flying further today than they ever could before. Qantas plans to use its Boeing 787s to launch direct flights from Perth to London’s Heathrow airport next year. Schedules are yet to be released, but it’s expected flying time will be around 17 hours. Qantas is betting that this will appeal to flyers who don’t like stopovers.
Similarly, Singapore Airlines will also fly non-stop from Changi Airport to New York in 2018, using an all-new Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range) jet. Flying time is expected to be 19 hours, which will make it the longest commercial passenger flight.
Better seats and beds
Over the past few years we’ve seen a real drive towards business-class seats which provide uninhibited aisle access and transform into fully flat beds. Some airlines have also boosted storage space for the business traveller.
Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350s feature various nooks and cupboards to stow your laptop, tablet, headphones and valuables throughout the flight, as do Qantas’ Business Suites – currently flying on Airbus A330s with an upgraded version planned for its Boeing 787s.
If you haven't flown for a while, you’ll be treated to a whole new flying experience.
Make your next long-haul overnight flight even easier on your body by having a pre-flight meal in the airport or lounge. That way you can sleep straight after take-off.
Even if you’re stuck back in economy, the right frequent flyer membership or platinum credit card can be your ticket to the lounge.
Chris Chamberlin writes for Australian Business Traveller
Twitter @AusBT and @ChamberlinChris
Why the future looks good for business travel