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Could Falling Airline Travel Standards Be Saved by New Tech?

Airline innovations may make flying a little less painful.

Confirming the hunch that we’ve all had in our heads (and backs) for so long, a new study has proven that airline standards are indeed slipping.

Some interesting findings published in the annual Airline Quality Ratings Report on April 13, according to Associated Press:

More delays—The percentage of flights that arrived on time fell to 76.2 percent last year from 78.4 percent in 2013. Best: Hawaiian Airlines. Worst: Envoy Air, which operates most American Eagle flights.

More lost bags—The rate of lost, stolen, or delayed bags rose 13 percent in 2014. Best: Virgin America. Worst: Envoy. Airlines lose one bag for every 275 or so passengers, but at Envoy, the rate is one lost bag for every 110 passengers, according to government figures.

More oversold flights—The rate of passengers getting bumped from flights rose 3 percent. Best: Virgin America. Worst: a tie, between SkyWest and its ExpressJet subsidiary.

More complaints overall—Consumer complaints to the government jumped 22 percent in 2014. Best: Alaska Airlines. Worst: Frontier.

So what does the air transportation industry have in store to address some of these concerns?

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Boeing’s new Space Bins for the 737 are expected to increase overhead baggage space by 50 percent. The company hopes that this change will help airplanes board and clear passengers quicker, as well as reduce the stress around limited storage space. The bins also open 2 inches lower, making them more accessible, although some may argue it isn’t worth the equal 2-inch reduction in head space. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, folks.

Adjustable headrest, cushion seating, and eLeather cover to be among its other features. Image via YouTube screencapture

Southwest Airlines has recently announced a mind-blowing, game-changing increase in the width of their seats by a whopping 0.7 inches. The fractional bump in seat space will increase the width from 17.1 to 17.8 inches—giving them the crown for the widest seats on any Boeing 737 aircraft. According to SeatGuru, this puts Southwest’s seat a wide margin ahead of the 17.0 inches offered on Alaska Airlines, the 17.3 inches offered on United or the 17.2 inches offered on Delta and American's 737s.

PatentYogi's illustrations may have taken "interesting" to "bizarre." Image via YouTube screencapture

This news will have to tide us over until Boeing’s patent on a seat designed for comfortable upright sleep is realized. The strange-looking conceptual chair provides passengers with a front-pack of sorts that allows them to lean forward, instead of to the side, for some shut-eye. It is not confirmed whether Boeing will ever follow through on the design; as a company spokesperson told MailOnline, Boeing “files many patents every year, but that doesn't necessarily mean we end up pursuing them.”

Finally, a new antenna could provide dependable in-flight WiFi that may change the quality of airplane entertainment. People who have shelled out the premium fee for aerial internet often have mixed results, with frustratingly slow and inconsistent connections. Kymeta’s mTenna boasts a sleek design that allows it to function dependably without affecting airplanes’ drag or consuming excessive power. Roughly the shape and size of an octagonal extra large pizza, the technology can maintain a good connection without having to move.

America’s airline industry had been improving steadily over four years until 2014, when its progress began to decline. Hopefully, new innovations in technology will step in to restore the positive trend. While larger bins and fancy seats may not directly address the problems inherent to the airline system, i.e. delays and baggage complications, it’s small steps like these that add up to larger changes in the end. The smartest move possible by airlines could be distracting us with better WiFi until that time finally comes.

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