In Review

BA2119: fly into the future at the Saatchi Gallery

British Airways has asked futurologists - and the public - to forecast the next 100 years of aviation

The future of flight lies in personalisation and convenience - but not necessarily speed, according to a report commissioned by British Airways and brought to life at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, central London.

Visitors to BA2119: Flight of the Future, will see imaginative prototypes for ultra-flexible aircraft seating, customised in-flight meals and planes that harvest water from the clouds. The concepts were designed by students at the Royal College of Arts in response to the results of a BA survey of 13,000 people in ten countries.

Some of the proposals “sound far-fetched”, conceded Alex Cruz, the chairman and chief executive of British Airways, at the launch of the exhibition, but he predicted that “everything here will happen in one way or another”.

Here’s what the futurologists are predicting:

  • Increased personalisation: from meals formulated to match the precise nutritional requirements of each passenger to beanbag-like seats that flex to fit individual body shapes, the aircraft of the future are expected to treat each passenger as unique. This would mean an end to cabins divided into economy, business and first, and the introduction of a more flexible, mix-and match approach to services.
  • More convenience: as painless as the aircraft of the future may be, flying will still be a hassle unless the airports keep pace. Improvements on the ground are expected to include seamless security, in which passengers and their luggage are scanned as they walk through the airport, and, more ambitiously, a modular approach to transport in which personal self-driving pods would pick passengers up from their homes and take them right into the aircraft.
  • More automation: robots and AI-powered holograms are expected to take over everyday tasks in airports and on planes, freeing up flight attendants and ground staff to focus on providing a more personalised service. The automation of check-in, immigration and customs procedures - already well under way - is expected to continue.
  • More speed - and less: a new breed of supersonic jets is expected to cut journey times dramatically, but also to create demand for a more leisurely form of flight. “Within 50 years we will see a trend for slow, experiential flights,” the report says, suggesting that these “air cruises” will involve a gentle pass over an area such as the pyramids, accompanied by interactive virtual-reality guides.
  • Lower emissions: concern about climate change is an increasingly pressing concern for aviation, one of the single biggest polluters. British Airways has committed to a 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050, but the futurologists forecasts more radical solutions, including electric planes refuelled mid-journey by aerial recharging stations and the rise of other alternative fuels.

The report and exhibition were commissioned to mark British Airways’s centenary - Air Transport and Travel, one of the airlines that would eventually become BA, started up a London-to-Paris flight on 25 August 1919 - and a highlight of the exhibition looks back as well as forward.

A virtual-reality experience called Fly lets visitors step aboard that early commercial flight, as well as the Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk and Leonardo da Vinci’s theoretical flying machines. Concorde, the new Airbus A350 and a hypothetical flight of the future are also included in the time-travelling ride, which employs a VR headset, moving platform and wind effects to conjure a convincing simulation of flight.

BA2119: Flight of the Future is at the Saatchi Gallery, London SW3, until 26 August. Admission is free, but the Fly VR experience is £20

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