I tried a two-decker plane seat

Hamburg (CNN) – Flying economy for any length of time is an experience that is usually tolerated rather than enjoyed, but one airplane seat designer believes his design could revolutionize travel on a budget.

The Alejandro Nunez Vicente aircraft seat concept started on a small scale last year, as a university project for Chase Long at the time. The nomination at the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards – the airline industry’s number one award – was followed up quickly, and the design became the focus of online attention after an article on CNN Travel.

Since then, Núñez Vicente has been making waves in the world of aviation. He has paused his master’s degree to pursue the project full time. He’s in talks with big-name airlines and seat manufacturers. He got some huge investments which allowed the project to develop.

But while some marvel at Núñez Vicente’s innovation, others hold back, worried about claustrophobia and convinced that sitting under someone else would be worse, not better, than the aircraft’s current economic setup.

“I am more than listening to critics and hearing bad comments, than I am listening to good comments and flowers they have thrown at me,” says Nunez Vicente, speaking to CNN Travel in Hamburg, Germany, where he is showcasing his design at the 2022 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX).

Its design is for the everyday traveler, so Núñez Vicente says he’s eager to hear what potential publishers have to say, positive or negative.

“My goal here is to change the economy class seats for the benefit of humanity, or for all the people who can’t afford expensive tickets,” he says.

Núñez Vicente is due to receive more comments this week. AIX is one of the world’s largest aviation shows, displaying the first large-scale prototype of its design.

CNN Travel stopped by to find out what it might be like to fly on a double-decker plane seat.

concept test

Airplane seat Chaise Longue is on display at AIX 2022 in Hamburg.

Francesca Street / CNN

First, the top level. Núñez Vicente designed the two-step, ladder-like prototype for travelers to use to reach the upper level. It’s a little risky, but once I get there the seat feels spacious and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room to stretch my legs. The prototype seats don’t move, but are each set up in different positions to indicate how they can be.

The Núñez Vicente design eliminates the overhead compartment. Instead, design a space between the passenger’s upper and lower levels to store cabin baggage.

In the vast halls that reverberate at the Hamburg Messe congress center, it’s hard to imagine what it would actually be like when you’re this close to the cabin ceiling. Núñez Vicente believes that there will be about 1.5 meters separating the seated passenger from the top of the aircraft. He argues that while a traveler can’t stand upright in that space, not many can actually stand upright in normal economy rows—although presumably those taller travelers would be more compressed by this design.

Next, try the bottom row of seats. Núñez Vicente’s frustration of not having legroom was the original motive for the design, and because there is no seat on the same level in front of me, it allows me to extend my legs, and there is a foot rest for added comfort.

However, since the other level of seating is directly above me and in my eye line, I have claustrophobia. But if you don’t mind tight spaces, and you simply plan on sleeping through the flight, this could be an effective solution.

Next steps

The cocoon-like spaces have a foot booth that occupies their legs.

The cocoon-like spaces have a foot booth that occupies their legs.

Francesca Street / CNN

The Chaise Longue seat was initially conceived for the Flying-V, a new aircraft concept currently in development at Delft University of Technology, University of Núñez Vicente.

Now, it is believed that the design could be implemented in a Boeing 747, Airbus A330, or any other aircraft with a medium to large wide body.

Núñez Vicente is ambitious and confident his design can become a reality, but he also admits that unusual ideas for plane seats often don’t make it from concept to reality. It is a long process, and the strict rules and regulations of the industry can become roadblocks.

Plus, the airplane’s economy seat hasn’t really changed in decades, even if there have been many reimagined concepts that designers have put forward.

One of the phrases I get a lot of, is ‘If it ain’t broken, why would I change it? Núñez Vicente admits. “So, if passengers are still traveling in the worst economy class seats, why would we give them a better option? It makes profits. That’s the airline’s goal at the end of the day, not to make your flight better.”

However, the seat designer is already working on the next step in his process, engineering the chassis to be lighter than the current iteration.

He hopes to partner with an airline or seat manufacturer to make this happen.

“Right now, we show the market what we have. We let the market come in and tell us what we have to do next,” he says.

Núñez Vicente may now collaborate with industry experts who have years of experience, but the project began in his bedroom at his parents’ home, and his family is still a big part of the process.

He’s in AIX with his parents – they drove the prototype Chaise Longue in a truck across Europe and helped him set up the seat on site.

“Of course, at first, no one expected this to get to the point where we are today. But they all knew I would be able to do something,” Nunez Vicente says.

“If you had asked me before, I would have said that maybe it was just a university project. If you had asked me now, after all this hard effort [work], after all the efforts of so many, so many people – I would say this has become a reality. We see it as the future of the economic class.”

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