From facial scans to more sneaky fees: What you need to know about air travel in 2018

A Suites class cabin on Singapore Airlines.
Singapore Airlines

First class somehow gets more luxurious — and rarer

A Suites class cabin on Singapore Airlines.
Singapore Airlines

A spot in the pointy end of the plane will be an even more enviable location next year as some of the world's most luxurious airlines battle for rich fliers.

Singapore Airlines recently unveiled new first-class suites on the upper deck of its Airbus A380. They feature beds, which can be turned into a full bed with the adjoining suite, with cotton duvets. There also are 32-inch monitors, should the lobster thermidor and cloud-gazing from a personal swivel chair become dull.

Not to be outdone, Emirates will have brand-new standalone suites for its Boeing 777s. The airline said the design was inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S Class, though sliding doors make them look like they belong on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

While enjoying a new level of privacy on board, passengers can order drinks or food from a small window in the suite. Each suite has up to 40 square feet of personal space.

Business class is the new first class

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

But even airlines that bank on images of the champagne-sipping elite to sell themselves are reducing the number of first-class suites they offer, while other airlines have scrapped it altogether on some routes. Instead, airlines such as Delta and Qatar Airways are making business-class seats more private and luxurious with lie-flat beds, a bet employers will shell out for seats and they won't have to sacrifice seats to free upgrades.

Cheap travelers get their own planes

A Boeing Co. 737 passenger aircraft, operated by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The epitome of class divides in air travel is segregating passengers who wish to pay for cheap seats — like, $99 cheap — on entirely different planes. That's the idea behind rapidly expanding international budget airlines as they aim to grab more passengers from full-service legacy airlines.

Keep an eye out for new routes from Level, a fledgling airline owned by British Airways parent IAG, across the Atlantic and from Europe to South America. Low-cost Icelandic-owned Primera Air is scheduled to start transatlantic service in the spring, while Norwegian Air Shuttle is adding service across the pond next year, bringing its total number of transatlantic routes to 61.

Do you love paying airline fees? 2018 is your year.

A traveler checks in with her suitcases at a ticket counter at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Tim Boyle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

This trend toward a la carte flying is set to cost travelers even more next year.

If you want to save your money, pay very close attention to what your airfare includes. The Trump administration earlier this month dropped an Obama-era proposal to require airlines to disclose fees, such as those for checked baggage, at the start of the ticket purchase, not just at the end.

This decision came as fees are proliferating. Basic economy — the no-frills fare class airlines love for you to hate — is expanding next year.

Big airlines' answer to a growing number of low-cost airlines is to emulate their model: charging more for tickets that include seat selection and checked baggage, and in some cases not allowing travelers in the cheap seats to use overhead bins. The tickets are extremely restrictive and generally non-refundable.

International travel is next. American is selling basic economy class from the U.S. to Mexico for next year. Delta Air Lines in April will start charging basic economy $60 to check a bag from the U.S. to Europe next year as it takes the bare-bones class abroad in 2018.

Delta and American have said about half of passengers opt for the more expensive fare over basic economy.

"We don't determine [the value of basic economy] as how much of that we sold," Glen Hauenstein, Delta's president, told investors last month. "We really determine it by how much of it we didn't sell."

Delta's partner Air France-KLM is also rolling out a bare-bones basic economy product next year.

Some 'smart' luggage won't fly

BlueSmart luggage weighs itselfBlueSmart
Source: BlueSmart

A bag that can charge your phone, report its location through an app, and weigh itself sounds like a great holiday gift but some models won't fly starting in mid-January.

Fearing battery fires, most U.S. airlines, including American, United, Delta, Alaska and Southwest won't allow passengers to check smart luggage whose batteries cannot be removed.

Smart luggage startup Away provides a small TSA-approved screwdriver to its customers to remove the battery, while competitor Raden also has a removable battery. Bluesmart, another startup, has a fixed battery but told CNBC it is trying to get an exemption.

Smart suitcases are a small but growing part of the $6 billion luggage market, but travelers should check whether the battery can be removed if they intend to fly with these bags.

Battery fires are a major concern in the aviation industry, especially those in the luggage hold. Fires in the cabin are easier to put out, because crew members have easy access to extinguishers or fire containment bags.

Facial scans and other biometric screening

U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisor Erik Gordon, left, helps passenger Ronan Pabhye navigate one of the new facial recognition kiosks at a United Airlines gate before boarding a flight to Tokyo, last July, at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, in Houston.
David J. Phillip | AP

Airlines around the world have been testing biometric screening of passengers, using fingerprints and facial scans to replace traditional boarding passes.

But some of these programs have been criticized, particularly the $1 billion biometric exit program in the U.S. This program, in use at some airports, screens the faces of passengers, including U.S. citizens, when they leave the country.

The U.S. government wants to expand facial scans of passengers to major U.S. airports next year, but researchers recently found that the program can produce inaccurate results. Two senators recently asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to stop the program and to give lawmakers authority over its use and potential expansion from airports where it is currently used, including airports in Boston, Houston, New York and Chicago.

Real IDs reprieve

An officer from the Transportation Security Administration checks travel documents for passengers traveling through Reagan National Airport.
Getty Images

A law that intends to crack down on fake IDs would have required travelers in a number of states to bring a passport or some other form of identification by Jan. 22. But fliers from states that have an extension to comply with the REAL ID Act by producing harder-to-copy driver's licenses or other forms of identification can still use their state identification cards at the airport until Oct. 11, 2018, the Transportation Security Administration said in late December.

Nineteen states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Oregon, have extensions, according to the Department of Homeland Security.