2024 brings new airplanes, seats and airport improvements to passengers

The arrival of the Airbus A321XLR will bring longer range to the single-aisle A320neo family of aircraft.

The arrival of the Airbus A321XLR will bring longer range to the single-aisle A320neo family of aircraft.AirbusCNN — 

Passengers will fly in 2024 with airlines that are putting their post-lockdown plans into place. And that includes shiny new airplanes containing new seat designs arriving at a rapid pace.

A scattering of new airports and terminals will change the game in a few key regions, although some routes and airplanes will be delayed into 2025 or further because of supply chain difficulties.

Let’s start with those new airports and terminals before taking a look at the airplane deliveries and new seats.

A big new terminal and a major airport upgrade

Abu Dhabi International Airport, home to Etihad Airways, fully opened its Terminal A in late 2023 after much delay. This enormous facility is a huge improvement and will allow Etihad to offer much improved connections, a much more pleasant space for passengers and new lounges as the carrier expands into 2024.

Meanwhile, at Los Angeles’ LAX, the biggest news is outside the terminals — sort of. The Automated People Mover train system at the airport has taken five years to complete with six stations, connecting the terminals with the new rental car facility, ride-hailing zones, parking lots and the new Metro Transit Center station for the local C and K Metro Rail lines.

It’s a massive improvement and will hopefully go a long way toward reducing the airport’s traffic snarls when it opens in 2024.

Across the world, expect to see a number of quality-of-life improvements to airports rolling out, such as more of the new bag scanners that mean you don’t have to take liquids or electronics out in security lines and more integrated airline and airport apps that reduce queueing times and speed up boarding.

An artist's rendering of the new LAX Automated People Mover train system.

An artist’s rendering of the new LAX Automated People Mover train system.Los Angeles World Airports/AP

New small planes will make a big difference onboard

The big news is in little planes — well, not that little.

The Airbus A321XLR is the longest-range version of Airbus’ A320neo family of single-aisle planes, with XLR standing for “extra long range” of 4,700 nautical miles or roughly nine to 10 hours of flying. After some delays, it’s expected to start flying in late 2024.

You might be familiar with the A320neo from shorter flights of a few hours, but the XLR version can fly as far as a much bigger plane – and more economically for airlines. Its extra long range opens up a lot of routes known as “long and thin”: the ones with too little passenger demand for a big plane, but too far for previous versions of the small planes to fly.

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“If everything goes well, I think this will really change the city pairs that would be served, and it could bring additional frequency to existing routes, so I think this aircraft will bring a lot of convenience,” said Flavien Tête, co-founder and chief executive officer of the popular flight review website Flight-Report.com.

The relatively small plane compared with big widebodies “also means shorter boarding and deboarding times,” Tête told CNN Travel, “and also new cabins. The narrow-body cabin was not necessarily designed for full flat seats or premium economy seats, and these were not really optimized for the [previous] narrow-body fleet. So with the A321XLR, we’re really going to see brand new seats, brand new ambience — we’ll feel very cozy.”

Stelia’s Opera premium business class suites are expected on some A321XLR aircraft.

Stelia’s Opera premium business class suites are expected on some A321XLR aircraft.Franck Socha/Stelia

Onboard the A321XLR, the big news will be in business class, where you’ll find big new suites with doors, along the lines of what JetBlue has done with its Airbus A321LR (“long range”) in starting flights to Europe. New suites such as Stelia’s Opera and Safran’s Vue will arrive, leapfrogging older business class seats in comfort terms.

In economy, expect the same kind of fully featured seats with big entertainment screens, power sockets and inflight WiFi options that you’re used to on long flights. Newer seats such as the Recaro CL3810 also sculpt away some of the support structures at knee and shin level to give you a bit of extra legroom.

In Australia, Qantas will take its first A321XLRs in 2024, and the airline is already starting to take its first Airbus A220 airplanes, replacing elderly Boeing 717s and adding space and features to its regional experience.

A flock of new big planes mean new seats and services

A Japan Airlines Airbus A350-1000

A Japan Airlines Airbus A350-1000Airbus

As airlines accelerate away from the pandemic downturn, the new planes they ordered are starting to arrive, featuring new cabins and new seats.

Japan Airlines will start operating its first Airbus A350-1000 in January 2024, initially to New York and later in the spring to Dallas-Fort Worth as well. With luxurious first class suites, big business suites, upmarket premium economy and some of the most spacious economy seats in the sky, this is an airplane to watch out for.

Watch out — or listen out — also for the new headrest speakers in first and business class seats, launched on these JAL A350s. This is Safran’s Euphony system, which adjusts automatically to account for cabin noise so that whatever you’re listening to isn’t audible outside your own suite. It’s not meant for swelling orchestral or cinematic masterpieces, but it’s superb for falling asleep to a documentary or podcast without a big headset (or losing a Bluetooth earbud down the side of your seat).

Lufthansa, meanwhile, is due to introduce its Allegris generation of products, with new seats in first, business, premium and economy, bringing its onboard experience up to date. Production delays, however, mean there may be some extra time to wait for the experience.

Lufthansa is expected to introduce its Allegris seating.

Lufthansa is expected to introduce its Allegris seating.Lufthansa

Air India is also getting the first A350s that it designed itself, fresh from its rebrand with lovely new airplane paint jobs and superb new uniforms from fashion designer Manish Malhotra. While the airline has been taking a few A350s previously intended for Russia’s Aeroflot in late 2023, these will be the first all-Air-India-designed cabins, with new seats throughout.

Emirates, too, gets its first A350 in mid-2024, which will have new seats that have yet to be unveiled. The Dubai-based airline is also planning on replacing seats on its older Boeing 777 airplanes with a new business class product — not a moment too soon given the age of the seats on these aircraft.

American Airlines adds to the list of new seats, for both smaller narrow-body and larger wide-body airplanes.

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More widely, Airbus will be ramping up deliveries of its “NPS” or “New Production Standard” A350s, which offer a slightly updated cabin.

For passengers, this means thinner side walls and more space for galley kitchens, meal storage, lavatories and crew areas at the front and back of the plane.

For airlines that keep their current 3-3-3 seat layout, this is good news for passengers: the 4-inch-wider cabins mean a little more shoulder room. But some airlines, reportedly including Etihad based in Abu Dhabi, are adding in a 10th seat to every economy row.

But it’s not all bad news for economy: Air New Zealand will launch its Skynest bunks in 2024 on flights to New York and Chicago, with six pods that let passengers grab some much-needed shut-eye. The airline expects to charge between $400 to $600 for a four-hour snooze.

In economy, aircraft cabin designer Daniel Baron, the managing director of Lift Aero Design in Tokyo, tells CNN that “the post-Covid era is an overflowing river of complaints about the customer experience, reflecting frustration with eternal lines at airports, mishandled baggage, packed lounges, fees for things that used to be free, and compact living space in always-full economy class.”

“As a strategy to help mitigate the pain points,” Baron predicts, “airlines will be investing more in the back of the bus, with greater seat comfort, snazzier aesthetics and free connectivity. The creature features include better seat cushions https://mesinpencarinenas.com and brighter colors, plus snack counters and mood lighting. It is very important for airlines to deliver tangible, relevant enhancements that keep people interested in flying.”

All of these new planes mean that airlines can choose to replace their older fleets or expand to new destinations.

Keep an eye out as schedules are announced, especially for intercontinental flights — the transatlantic and transpacific routes are seeing a lot of new nonstop services pop up, which may be much more convenient.

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