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Air travel: The more the ... cheaper

The mass transition to electric-powered aircraft was made possible by a breakthrough in battery technology, which did away with the costliest part of flying — the fuel. Plane tickets are now comparable in price to train rides (proportional to the distance, of course). Anyone can fly! However, affordability is inversely proportional to comfort; no square inch of cabin space is wasted. Seemingly crazy solutions such as replacing seats with bicycle-type saddles, and double-decker seating in the central part of wide-body airliners, have already been patented. In latter case, wave-shaped partitions divide the cabin vertically, and passengers sit one above the other in a chessboard arrangement. That said, don’t expect aircraft cabins of the future to resemble subway cars at rush hour; packing passengers in too tightly would be a breach of safety standards, which require the ability to evacuate the plane quickly, without creating a crush. So as not to scare off well-heeled travelers, the cabins are divided — but by zone, not class. In particular, the 2050 Airbus Concept Cabin aircraft envisages the abandonment of traditional service classes in favor of interactive “zones of interest”: some people play VR golf; others read bedtime stories by video linkup to their kids back home, or shop virtually; still others sit in massage chairs and gaze at the planet below. To pack in as many as possible, airplanes have outer shells made of nanomaterials. The “smart membrane” can become more or less transparent and regulate the temperature and air pressure inside the cabin, replacing the current valve-based system. The engines are electric, so they do not heat the outside air. For the sake of the environment, even passengers’ body heat is recirculated to warm the cabin, much the way their exhalations currently maintain cabin humidity.