Just when the crowding on airplanes is reaching nightmarish proportions, someone has come along and with the promise of more comfort, is pushing for a way to squeeze even more seats in economy class.
23-year-old airplane seat designer Núñez Vicente had a brainstorm; his concept started small – as a college project back in 2021. But then it got bigger and now it may be the future of airline seating.
A nomination for the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards – a top prize in the aviation industry – shot the concept of the double-decker airline seat into the public consciousness. Núñez Vicente paused his master’s degree and put all his time, money and efforts into making his vision a reality.
Now Núñez Vicente has sponsors, partnership deals and is in regular conversation with “the biggest players in the industry.” He believes his double-level airplane seat is the future of economy flying and is working around the clock to make it a reality.
Following a CNN Travel exclusive last year, Núñez Vicente’s concept went viral – sparking furious debate and prompting an avalanche of reactions from would-be passengers – many were outraged, some puzzled, others intrigued.
“Most of the times when they show you something new, everyone hates it at first, they’re scared of change. But the more you show it, and the more you develop it, and the more they see it, the more they get used to it,” he says.
All that may be true, but just because people can adapt to even the worst conditions doesn’t make them any better. So, what’s the deal with the double-decker seat?
For one, he’s not trying to eliminate regular airplane seating altogether. This would be an additional option available. Núñez Vicente envisions an airplane cabin in which the Chaise Longue is in the center, flanked by two rows of regular airplane seating. He admits that the seat wouldn’t be suitable or appealing for everyone, even if he thinks it could be more comfortable for some passengers, particularly those who want more leg room or want to stretch out.
Still, even he has to admit that for airlines, the appeal of the Chaise Longue is the increased passenger headcount. “Many airlines and many big players of the industry are trying to push us to put more passengers into the aircraft,“ he says. “It’s not our main priority and our main goal, but with this kind of design it’s also possible.”
When the Chaise Longue hit the headlines in 2022, Núñez Vicente says he received multiple requests from people looking to travel to his home city of Madrid, Spain, to test the prototype themselves.
“We have had people coming to try it” says Núñez Vicente, and these people had plenty to say afterwards.
Now he has launched the Chaise Longue in the Metaverse, thanks to a collaboration with a company called 3DSeatMap VR, to illustrate what the seat would look like in situ in a cabin. Virtual users can wander around the design and inspect it for themselves.
The top-level seat is closer to the cabin ceiling than the floor; this is like being in a bunk bed where the ceiling is only inches from your face. For some, this in itself would be a deal-breaker. What’s more, according to some who have tested the design, the bottom level seat feels pretty claustrophobic. Most importantly, having a row of seats directly in your eyeline may be troubling for some, but the trade-off is more space to stretch out your feet than in your average economy airplane seat.
And while three people sitting on both the bottom and top rows feels a little tight, it is no less space than in regular economy class–so he claims.
The seats on the lower-level fold up when not in use – theater seat style – which Núñez Vicente said makes the lower row of the design a little more accessible and could accommodate wheelchair users, although the top seat remains off limits for anyone with mobility issues.
All told, the biggest advantage is to airlines, which could squeeze more passengers on aircraft, but the designer claims his goal is passenger comfort.
“At the end of the day, by having a double decker, you optimize the space, you take advantage of the space that otherwise is just air,” he says.
For travelers who are already fed up with the abuse airlines dole out, this might be the breaking point.