Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Thu December 24 2015

Airline Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | December 24, 2015

Airline Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

As the book is closed on 2015 in the aviation and airline industry, a new chapter is being prepared for 2016.

What awaits us?


Here’s a look at what we think will be the top stories in the category in 2016 — stories that began this year, but will become even bigger in 2016, and stories not yet on the radar.


There was a hope that the Obama administration would decide before the end of the year on whether to open consultation on the Open Skies agreements with the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The big three U.S. airlines — American, Delta and United — put together some compelling evidence in a 55-page report that alleged these countries were subsidizing Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines.

But as the days dwindle here, it looks like the decision will carry over into 2016. And what a blockbuster decision that’s going to be. It will be interesting to see what U.S. airlines will do if they receive an unfavorable ruling. To that end …


The Middle East’s three major carriers are uniquely positioned. Fly eight hours in any direction from Qatar or the UAE and you reach three-quarters of the world’s population. That allows Etihad, Emirates and Qatar airlines to gain even more ground on the international long-haul market depending on how the U.S. Open Skies ruling goes.


Now that the two countries have restored diplomatic relations and have reached an agreement on restoring regularly scheduled commercial flights, the race is on. Each of the top five U.S. carriers — American, Delta, United, Southwest and JetBlue — have either expressed interest or downright said publicly that they will fly to Cuba.

But who’s going to be first, and who’s going to be best? Aviation experts say the first actual commercial flight likely won’t take place until after March and maybe not until summer. That’s just extra time for U.S. airlines to fine-tune what it likely has been working on since this time last year in terms of a network and routes to Cuba.


Late in 2014 and on into this year, KLM introduced a global campaign called #HappyToHelp. Lost your passport? KLM was happy to help, even if you weren’t flying the airline. Stuck in traffic in New York? KLM had speedboats that left the city, bypassed traffic, and used the Hudson River to get you to your airport, even if you weren’t flying the airline. It’s an interesting concept, to be sure, as airlines try to diversify and provide custom content. A good example of that was, again, KLM, providing personal weather reports for your destination(s) and time frames so you know what and how to pack.


Here’s one that might be a bit outlandish but something we’d love to see — all seats on a plane as car seats. By that we mean, you can raise and lower your seat, move forward and backward, recline, even heat your tush just like in an automobile. As seat space becomes more and more cramped on airplanes, it would behoove airlines to do the same with their seats.


Will it continue? Will airfares continue to drop a little more rapidly than the current glacial pace? The International Air Transport Association estimates 3.6 billion passengers will fly in 2016. Airlines can still turn a profit between the increase in passengers and ancillary fees even if they lower airfares.


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