Overall, the travel landscape of 2015 will be a lot like the travel landscape of 2014. Air travel will remain a misery for folks in the back of the plane, while hotels, rental cars, and cruises won't change much. Still, you can look for a few new twists, from hot new technology to free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere.
Air Industry: Not Much Will Change
Just about everyone in the travel-forecasting business expects airfares to remain at or near their present levels, despite plummeting oil prices, and we agree: Airlines are finally making good profits, and they like the feeling. The four-airline oligopoly that dominates the U.S. skies is happy with things as they are and will crush any significant challenges to the current order.
The big four lines are wary of further acquisitions that would create even more market concentration. Alaska, Hawaiian, and JetBlue are vulnerable to hostile takeovers. Unfortunately, any takeover would completely trash those lines' brands and would therefore be detrimental to consumers.
The only innovative airline that might make it into the skies in 2015 is Baltia Air Lines, a low-key carrier planning nonstops from U.S. gateways to Eastern European capitals. In addition, the new Eastern Air Lines might fly a few charter trips (but that's really a case of "who cares?"). A return of PEOPLExpress and several other new-line proposals remain vaporware.
New Airplanes Will Benefit Airlines More Than Passengers
The new models that will come into widespread use in 2015 will be of more benefit to airlines than to passengers. Yes, the 787, which Boeing will deliver in quantity, and the A350, which Airbus will start delivering, provide superior cabin altitudes and humidity levels than older planes, but most airlines have elected to install 737-sized economy seats with decreased legroom. This won't improve the gross overcrowding at all. These planes, plus the re-engined A320s coming in next year and the re-engined 737s, 777s, and A330s coming a bit later, will cut airline fuel bills but will do nothing for passengers. All the substantial passenger benefits will be up front, with lie-flat seats becoming the norm on intercontinental flights and increasingly on competitive transcontinental runs as well.
Consumer Issues Will Continue
From a consumer standpoint, there are lots of problems but few solutions. The hotel industry's widespread use of deceptive drip pricing—carving out a portion of the true price and calling it a mandatory fee rather than including it in the advertised rate—is a problem for consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) efforts to eliminate that hotel scam are moving at a snail's pace, if at all.
Even with deregulation, the U.S. government still has authority to require that international ticket-change fees be reasonable, which they clearly are not. Some consumer advocates are working on this, but the outcome is uncertain.
Free Wi-Fi Is Here to Stay
Free Wi-Fi will become almost ubiquitous among hotels, and airlines will also move in that direction. But you can expect a substantial split in Wi-Fi offerings: The free Wi-Fi will be pretty slow, suitable for email and looking at text, but inadequate for streaming video and other high-bandwidth applications. Fast Wi-Fi will be available, too, but for stiff surcharges. Cruise lines will start to offer far more robust Wi-Fi, with new steerable satellite downlinks providing a big bandwidth expansion. But, at least next year, the bill will be stiff.
Say Hello to High-Tech Hotels
Hotels are getting their hype generators into high gear for 2015. Take an ordinary assembly of rooms, stir in a heavy dose of hype, and voila: instant "lifestyle" hotel. The main change will be increased use of technology, which means more keyless or remote room entry, check-in, checkout, ordering of services, and control over room environments. Meanwhile, most of the industry is looking forward to steadily increasing rates.
A Refreshing Focus on Solo Travelers
A new AARP survey showing that some 37 percent of baby boomers want to travel alone is stirring up the complacent "per person, double occupancy" obsession of cruise lines and tour operators. You may start to see more products actually designed for these travelers rather than the prevailing "pair 'em up and ship 'em out" strategy.
New Rail Routes Overseas
While China manages to open 500–1,000 miles of new high-speed rail lines every year, Amtrak is facing slow fiscal starvation, especially from a Congress looking for big budget cuts. The most important rail development for North American travelers is likely to be the completion of the rail link from downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport. Elsewhere, the two biggest European rail projects will not see service until later: The Gotthard Base Tunnel that will drastically reduce train times between Switzerland and Italy will open in 2016, and the Crossrail project in London to link the eastern and western mainlines through the center of the city is not due until 2018.
(Photo: Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images)
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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title What Can We Expect in 2015? Here Are Seven Big Travel Predictions. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.