NEW YORK — Millions of people step aboard airplanes each day, complaining about the lack of legroom and overhead space but almost taking for granted that they can travel thousands of miles in just a few hours.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first commercial flight: a 23-minute hop across Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line was subsidized by St. Petersburg officials who wanted more winter tourists in their city. The alternative: an 11-hour train ride from Tampa.
With the anniversary in mind, The Associated Press reached out to today's aviation leaders to see what they are predicting for the future of flying. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
In five years
Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines: “Just over a decade ago airlines seemed to be buying every 50-seat aircraft they could get their hands on. But the real utility of those small jets has come and gone, and in the next five years we'll see their numbers in the U.S. continue to dwindle.”
Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines: “We'll have fewer airlines, but they will be bigger, stronger and healthier.”
Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., CEO, Allegiant Travel Co.: “The next five years will be all about increasing automation and decreasing labor cost. The industry is already implementing mobile boarding passes, bag drops, even self-boarding. These processes will become more prevalent and significantly reduce the number of employees the customer needs to interact with.”
In 25 years
David Barger, CEO, JetBlue Airways: “The freedom to travel between any two points in the world will be commonplace. There will be billions of travelers every year flying on new aircraft that will be environmentally friendly; in fact, they will be making zero-carbon travel maybe even a reality.”
Mark Dunkerley, CEO, Hawaiian Airlines: “Many of today's consumers will be priced out of the air: a sad legacy to 30 years of massive progress in democratizing air travel. Failure to invest in aviation infrastructure and the insatiable appetite for regulation will not be offset by relatively modest further improvements in aircraft efficiency.”
Sir Richard Branson, president, Virgin Atlantic Airways: “I have no doubt that during my lifetime we will be able to fly from London to Sydney in under two hours, with minimal environmental impact. The awe-inspiring views of our beautiful planet below and zero-gravity passenger fun will bring a whole new meaning to in-flight entertainment.”
In 100 years
David Siegel, CEO Frontier Airlines: “The first flight was just 18 miles long, but now look how far we can go. Perhaps in the future, experts will be designing futuristic propulsion systems. We could see innovations in aircraft design, local community-based air transport with smaller, higher efficiency aircraft, and maybe even pilotless commercial aircraft.”
Doug Parker, CEO American Airlines: “I am quite certain that Tony Jannus never could have imagined the size and importance of commercial aviation today, or the impact it had on changing our world. Similarly, I cannot imagine what commercial aviation will look like in 2114. I imagine whatever state it is, though, it will be extremely important and its continued development will be a key part of the story that built that world.”