The flight of the future

July 31, 2019

A ground-breaking study with British Airways.

2019 marks the centenary anniversary of British Airways, one of the most recognised and well-loved airline brands in the world.  As part of BA’s campaign to celebrate its 100 years of history and innovation, Foresight Factory was commissioned to produce a whitepaper report examining the future of flying in the coming century. Foresight Factory’s track record of data-driven insights and creative talent made us the ideal partner for a dynamic and multi-faceted report.


Our research process

The research and ideation behind the report was diverse and comprehensive.  A survey was sent out to 13,000 global travellers across 10 global markets, asking them about various aspects of their flying experience in 2019, and how they might want it to look and feel like in the future.

We also interviewed senior subject matter experts, futurists and thought leaders spanning the aviation industry and beyond in order to understand the underlying technological, scientific and socioeconomic drivers of change.

We then ran a workshop with senior BA and IAG stakeholders to come up with five key scenarios that would define the flying experience of 2070.  Finally, we consulted with futurists to push the boundaries even further, hypothesising what flying could look like in 2119.


What we found


1. The state of the in-flight customer experience in 2019

In Part 1 of our report, we present the findings of our comprehensive survey, highlighting key areas of consumer interest.  More than half of global consumers, and in China and India around 8 in 10 respondents, say they are excited about the possibility of immersing themselves in new, experiential worlds of while they fly, aided by virtual and augmented reality technologies.

Two-thirds say they would be keen to try out an AI personal assistant during their flight.  Yet, customer service delivered by airline cabin crew is still an important aspect of the flight experience, with 75% percent of travellers saying that they appreciate being able to speak to human staff for more personalised assistance. 

Environmental concerns are also top of mind for travellers. 43% of consumers surveyed say that, given the choice, they would be prepared to pay more to take a flight that produced fewer emissions.  45% say they would fly for longer and opt for the slowest available flight if it was the most environmentally friendly.


2. Getting to the future: drivers of change

In Part 2 of the research, following extensive consultation with industry experts and futurists, we explore the drivers of change that will have the greatest impact on the future of flying. 

Advances in jet propulsion technology, spurred on by new waves of investment and  innovation, are making the resurgence of supersonic travel a real possibility with the likelihood that a new generation of quieter, faster aircraft will make the world a much smaller place.

Electrification, and other emerging sustainable energy sources such as waste to jet fuel, will soon offer new possibilities for powering flights. Our research highlights the possibility of slower than traditional air travel, setting up a dichotomy between the convenience of supersonic flights and the sustainability of new energy travel.

By 2050 it is expected that 68% of the world’s population will live in megacities and that this will drive the emergence of new, dynamic flights, which will transport people between large metropolitan areas. A host of new craft, including mono-passenger VTOLs (vertical

take-off and landing craft) will become common-place and they will integrate with other new transport modes such as hyperloop trains to offer a more comprehensive and personal travel experience.

Growth in consumer spending will drive the rise of hyper-personalisation. Trackers and sensors will allow for more bespoke products and services to be offered to those flying giving travellers an experience that is tailored to their own bodies. For example, advising travellers when and what they should be consuming or advising them when and how to move. 

Technology is set to change the entire flying experience – augmented reality will allow for the integration of windowless aeroplanes, offering travellers personalised virtual worlds within the cabin. And automation will continue to progress with the likelihood that robots will undertake basic functions on board, allowing more time for cabin crew to offer more attentive  and personalised services to travellers.


3. The Flight of the Future

In Part 3, based on our research and a collaborative creative ideation process, we present five possible scenarios of what the Flight of the Future will look like. 

Supersonic Transport Ecosystem explores how demands for faster travel will bring together all parts of a consumer’s journey, creating a seamless experience through modular transport systems, from leaving the office or home to arriving at an individual’s destination.

My Flight, My Way focuses on how personalisation will impact the in-flight experience on aircraft. AI-powered personalisation will enable passengers to bring cloud-based work and entertainment profiles to their seats, while holographic flight attendants will field basic questions and requests, freeing up cabin crew to offer more value-added interactions.

Sustainable Skies sees solar panels attached to aircraft to provide a constant source of energy while flying, as well as aerial recharging stations that provide energy through linear induction without requiring the aircraft to land. In the near term, electricity and alternative fuels will take over from fossil fuels and carbon capture facilities on board will enable the aircraft to pull CO2 from the atmosphere.

We suggest that longer flights become an opportunity to offer experiential, learning or health opportunities. Air-time Reimagined imagines larger craft with on-board zones available for different activities. These could include immersive entertainment, language lessons and destination information, or health-driven facilities allowing passengers to feel better at the end of the journey than at the beginning.

The ability via autonomous VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) modular drones to transport people from their homes, via aerial highways, to a wide number of destinations, all much more quickly than ground transport, will revolutionise passenger travel. The Skytrain scenario sees these drones grouping together to travel in parallel for some of the journey, making it safer and more energy efficient, before splitting off again to land at different destinations.



Flying will undergo a transformative change over the next century, with new modes of transport challenging traditional methods – just as aeroplanes were the previous century’s challenger. Ultimately, across all future travel methods, experience, efficiency and speed will be the key factors of enjoyment and success, just as they are today.

Josh McBain, Consultancy Director at Foresight Factory, remarks that “the insights we gathered for this report give the clearest picture we have ever had of what customers expect from their future flying experience and the work we have done with futurologists and aviation experts paint an exciting picture of the future of flying.”

Alex Cruz, CEO at British Airways, comments: “The findings of the BA 2119: Flight of the Future Report not only offer us unprecedented insight into how consumers across the world feel about flying now, but what they will expect from us, as airlines, in the future.”

The full report can be read here


Want to identify the disruptors and drivers shaping your sector in years to come? Take a look at our our consultancy services to find out how we can help you.


Image copyrights: British Airways PLC/Foresight Factory


Written by Josh McBain

Josh McBain is Consultancy Director at Foresight Factory. He leads a team of consultants and client analysts who specialize in the design, delivery and communication of strategic consultancy projects. He has a proven track record of producing consultancy projects that have driven commercial growth, created extensive global media buzz and influenced government policy.

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