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13 Ways Air Travel Will Change in 2020

Buckle up, folks: Some of these changes may be coming to a flight near you in the new year—and others definitely are. Here’s what you need to know.

Travel, transportation, aviation concept, copy space/ Wide-body passenger airplane flying overhead against a spring blue sky, bottom view

What to expect in 2020

Remember back in the day when we didn’t have to take our shoes off to go through airport security and we didn’t have to pay extra to bring luggage? Those were bad changes for travelers. But there have been some good changes, too. Flying has gotten less expensive, we can email and text from 30,000 feet, and food options (when they are offered) seem to be improving. What’s next? Here are some changes you can expect in 2020, for better and for worse.

turkish airlines
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Stay connected on Turkish Airlines

We already heart Turkish Airlines’ policy of offering complimentary Wi-Fi to all passengers, if they’re on aircraft equipped to do this. But the airline just signed a deal between Global Eagle and Turkish telecom company Profen that will give more than 100 aircraft in-flight Wi-Fi. This is expected to connect passengers for the entire flight with high-speed Internet, according to Paxex.Aero. While we’re super excited about this news, we can’t get our hopes up completely just yet, after trying to connect on other airlines and finding the connectivity to be super slow. But we’re certainly willing to give it a shot. Before you board that flight, make sure to keep this map with airport Wi-Fi passports handy.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/Shutterstock

Real ID gets real

In October, you won’t be able to fly sans a Real ID if you’re 18 or older, according to the Transportation Security Administration. A Real ID is either a Real ID-compliant driver’s license, a state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of ID (the Real ID-compliant cards have a star at the top of the card). This news has been expected for months (years!) but keeps getting pushed back. It was passed by Congress back in 2005 post-9/11 to set standards for IDs. Now we think it’s really going to happen.

glas of tomato juice on a table in an airplane close to the airplane window

No more unlimited drinks

It hasn’t happened yet, but Renee Rayles, publisher of Travel Guide Los Angeles, believes that unlimited drinks on international flights will be a thing of the past. “With all the problems and issues with drunk airline passengers causing a variety of issues to distract flights, the serving of drinks seems to be much less than in previous years,” Rayles says. She noticed that in the past, a flight attendant would come by and ask patrons if they would like another alcoholic beverage. Today, she sees patrons hitting the call button for refills instead of it being actively catered to with alcoholic-drink refills. Here are another 22 things your flight attendant won’t tell you.

carry on luggage size
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Carry-on luggage may shrink

In the U.K. and Europe, Ryanair and Wizz Air have already reduced the size of their allowed carry-on luggage to effectively ban the standard carry-on case. Phil Partridge of Rhino Car Hire says he expects to see other budget carriers follow their lead. This allows the airlines to charge extra for standard carry-on bags while still offering gratis carry-ons—though most people’s luggage won’t fit the free standards. Partridge and his family were affected by this change when they flew Ryanair this past summer and were not allowed to take the ride-on Trunki cases, despite the fact that they fit under the seats. Here’s why more airlines are starting to charge for carry-on bags.

united airlines
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United MileagePlus changes

If you fly United frequently, then pay attention. According to The Points Guy, you won’t be able to earn miles toward status tiers as you had been doing in the past. Now, you can only get your miles based on Premier Qualifying Points and Premier Qualifying Flights. This means that each flight you take earns a credit toward your PQF requirement as long as you didn’t fly United Economy or fly using rewards. For example, if you take a round-trip with two segments in each direction, you’d receive four PQFs, regardless of the length of the flight. Partner flights also count. Don’t miss these travel point perks you probably didn’t know existed.

delta airlines seats

Delta reduces reclining seats

Yes, it’s true if you fly any of Delta’s A320 planes. Rather than adding seats or reducing space between the rows, the airline is limiting the amount you’ll be able to recline, according to the Los Angeles Times. The A320 planes account for about 7 percent of the Delta fleet and are typically used on short and medium domestic flights, so hopefully, this won’t be a huge deal. Currently, you can recline four inches on the seats in the main cabin, but you will probably only be able to recline two inches in 2020.

Airplane Seat
Eric Dunetz/Shutterstock

Airlines may take away legroom

Yes, even more, says Sara Rathner, travel expert at NerdWallet. “The FAA is testing to see if seating configurations get in the way of passengers’ ability to evacuate a plane within 90 seconds,” Rathner says. “But who knows, maybe in the future, we’ll stand on planes and hold onto straps like we’re riding in a sky subway.” Um, hard pass on that one…hopefully. Need more legroom? These are the best airplane seats for every need.

Happy Puppy
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More training may be required of emotional support animals

In the past few years, there has been an increase in animals traveling on planes as emotional support animals, says Christine Benninger, President and CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind. “The title ‘Emotional Support Animal’ is losing the respect it deserves because it’s being abused by people who simply want to travel with their pets on board, free of charge,” Benninger says. “Because these emotional support animals are not required to have any training, there have been many incidents where these animals have lashed out at people and trained guide dogs, causing serious damage.” Benninger expects that airlines will tighten rules around required training and legitimized licensing of emotional support animals.

Turbine of engine airplane in airport background.

Spotlight on sustainability

Given the heightened awareness of emissions from flying, the increased sense of urgency around climate action, and flight-shaming, Michelle Martin, founder and CEO of Travara, believes 2020 will bring a spotlight on sustainability, carbon offsets, and eco-taxes. Air France, for example, announced that it will offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions on its domestic flights in 2020, and France will soon be implementing an eco-tax on all flights departing out of France. “I am hopeful that more airlines and government policies will take similar measures to decrease the negative impact flying has on the environment because beyond that, the benefits of global travel are undeniable,” Martin says.

Buying airline tickets on line with a credit card

Flight prices will continue to fall

Check this one off for the best.news.ever. We already saw this happen in late 2019 when Norwegian Airlines started offering flights for as low as about $150 each way to Europe from the Midwest. It’s only the beginning, says Raj Mahal, founder of the travel planning app Plan More Trips, and it’s thanks to increased competition. For example, tickets from L.A. to London in March 2020 were being offered for just $400 round-trip if booked in November, according to Mahal. “More airlines will continue to invest in things like free Wi-Fi, but in an attempt to make fares even cheaper, fliers will have to pay for more standard things like seat assignments and carry-on bags,” Mahal says.

Father, mother and daughter getting ready for the flight. They are standing at departure lounge with suitcases and waiting for the aircraft arrival. Copy space in right side
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Families will sit together

And everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. In 2019, it was a constant fight: If you don’t pay extra for seating assignments on some airlines or when you’re flying at an economy rate, can they force you to be separated from your children? In November, airlines told parents they’d need to pay up or else risk sitting apart, according to USA Today. But in Europe, airlines have been pressured by regulators to seat families together, and Marianne Perez de Fransius, CEO of Bébé Voyage, believes that the United States will catch up to Europe in 2020. “Frankly, it’s ridiculous,” she says, “because what plane passenger wants an unattended toddler sitting next to him?”

qantas airlines longer nonstop flights

Non-stop flights will go farther

Thanks to better technology, airlines are able to fly farther longer, so you don’t have to make multiple stops even for uber-long flights (though you may want to for comfort’s sake). Qantas is testing 19-hour flights between New York and Sydney, and between Sydney and London, for example, according to Travel Pulse. For those long flights, make sure you don’t wear these 8 things.

airport robot

Robots will help

They’re getting involved in supermarkets and in delivering packages, so it’s only natural that they’d start helping at the airport, too. According to the International Transport Association (IATA), global travel frequency is expected to increase by 3.5 annually, and as a result, we need more assistance. ETurboNews says robotic airport assistance already keeps track of flight info, helps at the checkout counter, and streamlines the airport experience. In the future, these robots may even carry our luggage. Please and thank you. In the meantime, here are some other ways to take the stress out of air travel.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at Daniellebraff.com. You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff and Instagram at danikarp.