The hot topic that got a lot of tongues wagging at this year’s Future Travel Experience (FTE) was the impending launch of inter-galactic travel, poised to take place as early as 2014 or 2015.

Held for the second consecutive year at The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver, FTE focuses on how innovation can improve the passenger experience. Zero2infinity founder and CEO Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales promised attendees “an out of this world experience to the edge of our world”.

Lopez-Urdiales’ project, Bloon, is a spacecraft in the form of a pod and will enable passengers to view Earth from space. The pod will be equipped to carry four passengers, along with its two pilots. The entire trip will take about six hours, including a two-hour stay in space at an altitude of 36 kilometres. For context, the cruising altitude of an average airliner is 11 kilometres. Lift-off will commence after 5 a.m., so passengers can witness dawn from just outside the atmosphere.

Unlike other modes of space transportation, Bloon promises zero emissions and noise. Instead, a helium-filled balloon will pull the pod while idle pilots pull double duty as flight attendants. While observing the environs, passengers can look forward to a fully cooked breakfast unlike the vacuum-packed fare normally offered to space travellers. No longer a piece of fiction, travel to the edge of the atmosphere is set to become reality shortly.

The trip is expected to cost around 110,000 Euros ($142,000 Canadian) in total, which comprises not just the trip itself and the transfers to the spacecraft but also pre-flight pampering including two nights’ accommodation, meeting with scientists to talk about the trip, massage and training session. Customized spacesuit and insignias are also included.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration predicts that space tourism will become a reality in less than 10 years and by 2022, that sector is expected to become a US $1 billion industry. Even NASA is considering buying seats with Bloon once it becomes operational.

Currently undergoing trials and awaiting certification, Lopez-Urdiales is in talks with various countries over the use of fields for take-off and landing. Proposed venues include Spain and one in Southeast Asia.

Lopez-Urdiales is looking to host over 400 passengers per year, on two flights per week. He predicts that within five years, most airlines will have partners in space tourism.

Agents can expect to earn between six to nine per cent in commissions.

Another new piece of technology showcased on the FTE trade show floor was the Passenger Authentication Scanning System (PASS) by Atkins. Currently in use at Heathrow Airport, it links Infrared Facial Recognition Biometrics to the boarding pass, ensuring that the person holding the pass is the rightful owner.

Several organizations were recognized at the FTE awards for improving the passenger experience, including Delta Air Lines for “Best Use of Mobile Technology”. By downloading its baggage tracking app, passengers can find out if their bags were successfully loaded onto the plane and on which carousel they will appear.

Next year's Future Travel Experience will be held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas from September 4-6, 2013

– B Ang

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