These days, few new planes generate the sort of buzz that the original jumbo—the Boeing 747—or the supersonic Concorde did back in the 1970s. After all, when First Lady Pat Nixon cracked a bottle of Champagne over the first bulbous-nosed 747 in 1970, it literally launched the era of mass tourism across the Atlantic. But many aviation insiders say that while the latest jets coming off the assembly line may not have the distinctive look of those early icons, they will have as great an influence on the way we fly—if not more so.
“For years, the airline industry has been seeking game-changing aircraft,” says John Grant, London-based senior analyst at OAG, the airline research and publishing firm. “Now they’re finally arriving and are genuinely changing the way that carriers are able and willing to launch new services and frequencies.” Specifically, Grant says the latest machines can take us farther, faster, and move us in greater comfort than ever before. And in the process, they’ll burn less fuel—meaning that even if airfares don’t drop as a result, they probably won’t go up as fast as they would otherwise.
Here are some of the newer airplanes that could change your travels:
Expect to see it in: early 2019 in the U.S.
The buzz: Domestic flights that will get a lot comfier in coach
The Airbus A220 seemingly popped up out of nowhere, but it’s really a rebranding of a new regional plane, the Bombardier CS300 series, which was acquired by the European airframe manufacturer earlier this year. While that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, this nimble narrowbody will upend expectations on short-haul routes for several reasons, and comes in two flavors: the -100 version, with capacity for 110 fliers, and the -300, which can hold between 130-160.
On the A220, both the seat size (at least 18 inches) and the seating layout (2×3) stand out from the typical, you’ve-probably-seen-this-and-hated-it configuration on single-aisle planes: six seats across, each with a width of 17 inches. (Legroom, unfortunately, is totally up to the airline.) The two windows at each row, and capacious overhead bins, will also combat claustrophobia. The A220 also guzzles a lot less fuel than earlier regional planes, which means airlines will be more willing to take a gamble on new routes. And with longer range than the standard regional jet, there’s a possibility for short transatlantic hops, too.
Delta Air Lines was an early convert, ordering 75 C Series planes with deliveries to start next year; more recently, JetBlue snapped up 60 of the jets. In July, JetBlue founder David Neeleman tentatively ordered up to 60 A220s for his embryonic startup, Moxy, which plans to fly to mid-size markets in the U.S. like Providence or Burbank, with a launch expected in 2022.
Expect to see it: throughout 2018
The buzz: A better ride than the typical regional jet
Another rival in this space is Boeing’s recent partnership with Embraer for production of the E2, an extension of the Brazilian jetmaker’s popular regional jet line. The E2 carries the same number of passengers and has many of the same advantages of the A220, if not more: seating will be 2×2, with no dreaded middle seats, according to The Points Guy. (Airlines are also being offered a staggered business class seating layout with extra privacy.) So far, airline customers include China’s Hainan airlines, Brazil’s Azul (another David Neeleman venture), and Norway’s Widerøe.
Expect to see it in: mid-2018
The buzz: Challenging Boeing’s 777X for the 20-hour flight derby
Singapore Airlines’ relaunch of the the world’s longest flight in October—a 19-hour Newark-Singapore run—is putting the spotlight on the super-long-haul A350-900 that’s making this marathon run possible. And the next one out of the starting gate is its larger sibling, the Airbus A350-1000, a super-size edition of the A350-900.
Launch customer Qatar Airways will configure the A350-1000 to add an extra ten business class seats and 34 in coach over the 900 version, for a total of 327 passengers. Qatar also promises the jet’s interior features will enhance passenger comfort, with what it claims is “the lowest twin-engine noise level of any aircraft,” full LED mood lighting (a supposed sleep aid), and cabin air temperature controls. The -1000 will also carry a bigger fuel tank to haul all that extra weight, and even so, it can fly 9,000 miles without stopping (though not as far as the 9,300 maximum distance that the -900 version can make).
Expect to see it in: 2020
The buzz: A worthy heir to the 747 mantle
The true successor to the 747 may be Boeing’s newest souped-up version of the 777. The 777X is billed by the plane-maker as the biggest and best of the whole product line, with capacity for 406 passengers in a multi-class layout, virtually on a par with its bulbous-nosed predecessor (although it lacks the beloved upper deck of the former).
The Boeing 777X’s standout feature is a unique folding wing, which bends up at a right angle so the widebody can scrunch into tight docking spaces at airports, an advantage that isn’t shared by Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial airliner—its monstrous dimensions require airports to refit gate areas to accommodate the double decker. Emirates is expected to launch the jumbo into service in 2020; Lufthansa, Qatar, and Singapore are among the first round of customers.
Expect to see it in: 2025
The buzz: It’ll fly you from Tokyo to San Francisco in less than six hours
Denver-based Boom, a startup company that’s poised to produce the first supersonic jet since the Anglo-French Concorde was retired more than 15 years ago, recently said it would make a demonstration flight by end of 2019 and aim to deliver its first aircraft to an airline as early as 2025. One possible customer might be Japan Airlines, an early investor in the company, which has an option to buy up to 20 of the 55-seat airliners, which will fly at just over twice the speed of sound: Mach 2.2. (The planes will likely be restricted to subsonic speeds, or under 700 mph, over land.)
Still, the idea of flying in half the current time from the East Coast to London, or from the West Coast to Japan is hard to resist. The company claims that fares will be roughly equivalent to business class prices, even though Concorde fares soared well beyond the first class tab. See you in the air.