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11 wild travel predictions and whether they'll come true
Will the future see elevators to space, child-free flights and flying cars, or is it all just make-believe?
When Karl Friedrich Benz -- the father of the automobile -- watched the first of his cars being put together in the late 19th century, he probably could not have begun to envisage the Bugatti Veyron.
Likewise today, many forecasts of the future of travel can be mocked, or at least ignored.
But fictional as they may sound now, here are some predictions that have been made, by tech nerds, fortune-tellers and futurologists, about the future of travel.
We wanted to see just how likely each of them is, and so recruited David Feng, a Beijing-based tech watcher and blogger to offer his predictions on various events unfolding. The percentage marks below are his.
We also spoke to Roger Thomas, an airport and aviation specialist at CAP Strategic Research, to consider and rate the likelihood of these outlandish predictions actually becoming reality.
Maglev trains will replace air travel
Likelihood: 99 percent
Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains are high-speed trains that eliminate friction to travel at up to 580 kph. It has been predicted that they may eventually overtake air travel as the No. 1 choice of transport.
Thomas says, “High-speed trains have had a major impact on European air travel gaining 90 percent of London-Paris routes, 80 percent of Milan-Rome, 95 percent of Paris-Lyon. We expect high-speed trains to have big impacts on travel in China but not so much in other countries.”
Feng says doubters belong to the past. It’s not a question of if, but when.
“About a decade on [to become mainstream] is a conservative timeframe," he says.
Passports will become obsolete
Likelihood: 80 percent
According to some pundits, the words “May I see your passport, please?" could soon be obsolete.
The use of electronic chips and biometric data storage systems might just render conventional travel documents useless. Selected entry and exit points around the world are using technologically-enhanced cards or IDs as part of "swipe-and-go" technology for travelers.
For example, INSPASS in the United States, the Iris Recognition Immigration System at Heathrow in England, IACS at Singapore's Changi and Hong Kong’s ID card could all contribute to the extinction of passports as we know them.
“We'll all do fingerprints,” says Feng. “But the counterfeit prevention folks need to get ahead of the game.”
On the other hand, Thomas does not believe that conventional travel documents will vanish.
Space will become a holiday destination
Likelihood: 70 percent
For the wealthy, a trip to space is already possible. Italian-American engineering tycoon Dennis Tito became the first "space tourist" by paying a reported US$20 million to tag along with a Russian mission to the International Space Station in 2001.
Now, companies like Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace and Space Adventures offer the chance for other wannabe space tourists too. They are already accepting reservations to fly travelers along a sub-orbital route as early as next year.
So far, 500 people worldwide have signed up for space visits, according to Hong Kong’s only accredited space travel agent, Miramar Travel. It costs US$200,000 for a seat on Vigin Galactic's spaceship.
Thomas believes space tourism will become a future holiday destination, but “only for a few.”
More on CNNGo: 7 sci-fi innovations that will change travel
Aircraft will be pilotless
Likelihood: 60 percent
You've probably heard of unmanned trains, but unmanned aircraft? Sounds like lunacy, but this is exactly what researchers in Australia are claiming will happen within 50 years.
They claim that once unmanned aerial vehicles or drone technology becomes widespread, enhanced pilotless flights will become reality.
"Yes! Flights without pilots will become reality," agrees Thomas.
Feng also shares similar beliefs. “Yep, but I'm gonna ride driverless Metro trains first,” he says. “I don't trust technology that much but we've artificial intelligence now, so anything can happen.”
More on CNNGo: Fact or fiction? Pilotless flights to become reality
Space will have a hotel
Likelihood: 50 percent
If you're going to holiday in space, you'll need a hotel, right?
Russia’s Orbital Technologies says it will build a space hotel or "Commercial Space Station" for rich space tourists who are ready to leak a fortune from their savings.
The hotel -- which is expected to launch by 2016 -- will only accommodate a maximum of seven people at a time. And no showers will be provided.
Feng says the existence of the International Space Station makes it possible to have a Commercial Space Station. “We have the ISS but I'm not bullish myself on hotelizing,” he says.
More on CNNGo: Russians unveil space hotel
Aircraft will have see-through fuselages
Likelihood: 40 percent
This might sound odd, unnecessary and a little terrifying, but Airbus last year showed off what it claims will be the airliner of 2050.
The future visualization includes see-through upper deck fuselages, holographic gaming and morphing seats.
But Thomas says see-through upper deck fuselages are impossible.
Feng has a different view. “Apple might design this thing,” he says. “Is the iPlane the next big Tim Cook project or is it one of Steve Jobs' secret plans he left before he became iGod?”
Cars will fly
Likelihood: 40 percent
Road trips to become air trips?
That is what United States-based Terrafugia hopes will play out, based on its product, Transition, a dual-purpose, plane-car transformer thingamajig that costs US$279,000.
"First customer delivery of a Transition Roadable Aircraft is expected to occur in late 2012," promises the Terrafugia website.
The theory's great, but doesn't this mean we'll all need to spend time, money and not least, potentially life-threatening prangs getting our dual pilot/driver's license?
It’s a definite "no" for Thomas. Feng is equally doubtful. “I prefer Maglevs or super high-speed trains,” he says.
Elevators to space
Likelihood: 30 percent
So you thought the one-minute ride up to the office with your boss was painful?
Well, try a 36,000-kilometer, week-long elevator journey.
That's what Japan’s Obayashi Corporation says it will do by 2050.
The elevator will transport up to 30 people a tenth of the way to the moon, will travel at 200 kph and will include a platform to admire the view.
Feng says, “It’s not impossible but we need a second Albert Einstein to go a step ahead.”
That's one small step for a man ...
More on CNNGo: Japan plans 'space elevator' by 2050
Likelihood: 20 percent
Malaysian Airlines recently announced it was banning children under the age of 12 from the upper deck of its A380 fleet.
Passenger complaints about the little rascals' unruly cries triggered the ban. The airline earlier banned infants from First Class on its 747-400 routes.
If all airlines go this way, maybe future flights will become more quiet and childless.
Thomas says yes, future flights will become childless. Feng says “never."
So it's probably a bit of both. Some flights will be adults-only, others not.
More on CNNGo: Malaysia Airlines launches kid-free economy zone
Airport duty free shops will turn into showrooms
Likelihood: 20 percent
If projections in a white paper by CAP Strategic Research are to be believed, it could be bye-bye airport shopping.
The aviation research and consultancy company says online shopping will transform airport shops into showrooms. Fliers will only select the items they like, then purchase them online after which they will be delivered to their destination.
So does this mean no more show-off gifts on landing?
More on CNNGo: Airport of the future to make flying fun again
Aircraft will be powered by recycled cooking oil
Likelihood: 10 percent
Carbon emissions haunt air travel, so it's no surprise the industry is keen to be seen as trying to "go green."
One of the solutions to reducing the carbon footprint is to use cooking oil instead of fuel. Several airlines including Etihad, Lufthansa and KLM have operated flights using a blend of jet fuel and "biofuel."
But despite the PR drummed up by the airlines and the media coverage of their efforts, several obstacles remain.
"Biofuel production is trashing rainforest, causing climate-changing emissions and making food prices spiral," says Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth's biofuel campaigner. "Using them as aviation fuel would make matters even worse."
Feng says powering aircraft with recycled cooking oil is “weird, wacky and strange.”
More on CNNGo: Will green air travel also be cheaper?