This is what it could be like to travel in a double-decker airplane seat

(CNN) — Flying economy class for a long period of time is an experience often endured rather than enjoyed, but an airline seat designer believes his model could revolutionize budget travel.

Alejandro Núñez Vicente’s Chaise Longue airplane seat concept began on a small scale last year, as a college project for the then 21-year-old. It was quickly nominated for the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards – a major award in the aviation industry – and the design became the center of a flurry of internet attention following a CNN Travel article.

Since then, Núñez Vicente has not stopped making noise in the world of aviation. He interrupted his master’s degree to dedicate himself to the project full time. He is in talks with major airlines and seat manufacturing companies. He obtained a strong investment that has allowed him to develop the project.

But while some marvel at Núñez Vicente’s innovation, others shy away, worried about claustrophobia and convinced that sitting under another person would be worse, not better, than the current airplane economy setup.

“I grow more listening to criticism and bad comments than listening to good comments and the flowers they throw at me,” says Núñez Vicente, speaking to CNN Travel in Hamburg (Germany), where he is presenting his design at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX). ) of 2022.

The Chaise Longue aircraft seat on display at AIX 2022 in Hamburg. (Photo: Francesca Street/CNN)

It’s designed with the foot traveler in mind, so Núñez Vicente says he’s willing to listen to what potential travelers have to say, be it positive or negative.

“My purpose is to change economy class seats for the good of humanity, or for all the people who can’t afford to pay more expensive tickets,” he says.

Núñez Vicente is open to even more comments this week. The AIX is one of the largest aviation fairs in the world, and it will debut the first full-scale prototype of its design.

CNN Travel stopped by to learn what it might be like to fly in a double-decker airplane seat.

testing the concept

First, the upper level. Núñez Vicente designed the prototype with two steps in the form of a ladder for travelers to access the upper level. It’s a bit shaky, but once you’re up there, the seat is roomy and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room to stretch your legs. The prototype seats don’t move, but each one is placed in a different position to indicate how they might recline.

Núñez Vicente’s design dispenses with the overhead cabin. Instead, he designed a space between the upper and lower levels for travelers to store cabin luggage.

In the spacious halls of the Hamburg conference center, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be so close to the cabin ceiling. Núñez Vicente calculates that there would be about 1.5 meters of separation between the seated passenger and the upper part of the plane. He argues that although a traveler would not be able to stand upright in that space, many can no longer do so in normal economy rows, although taller travelers will presumably be further reduced by this design.

Next is to test the bottom row of seats. Nunez Vicente’s frustration with the lack of legroom was the original impetus for the design, and not having a seat on the same level in front of me allows me to stretch my legs, and there’s a footrest for added comfort.

Still, since the other tier of seating is directly above me and in my line of sight, it feels pretty claustrophobic. But if you don’t mind tight spaces, and plan on just sleeping through the flight, it could be an effective solution.

The following steps

Cocoon seats feature a footrest so passengers can stretch their legs.  (Photo: Francesca Street/CNN)

Cocoon seats feature a footrest so passengers can stretch their legs. (Photo: Francesca Street/CNN)

The Chaise Longue seat was initially conceived for the Flying-V aircrafta new aircraft concept being developed at Delft University of Technology, the Alma mater of Nunez Vicente.

Now, he reckons the design could be applied to a Boeing 747, Airbus A330, or any other mid- to large-size widebody.

Núñez Vicente is ambitious and confident that his design can become a reality, but he also recognizes that unusual airline seat ideas often don’t go from concept to reality. It is a long process, and the strict rules and regulations of the sector can become obstacles.

Also, the economy seat on an airplane hasn’t really changed in decades, even though designers have proposed many revamped concepts.

One of the phrases I frequently receive is: “If it’s not broken, why change it?” admits Núñez Vicente. “If passengers are still flying in the worst economy seats, why are we going to give them a better option? You make money. That is the airline’s goal after all, not to make your flight better.”

Still, the seating designer is already working on the next step in his process: designing the structure to be lighter than its current version.

He hopes to be able to collaborate with an airline or a seat manufacturer to achieve this.

“Right now, we’re showing the market what we’ve got. And we’re letting the market tell us what to do next,” he says.

Núñez Vicente may now be collaborating with industry experts with years of experience, but the project began in his parents’ bedroom, and his family remains an important part of the process.

He is at AIX with his parents, who took the Chaise Longue prototype across Europe in a van and helped him assemble the seat on site.

“Of course, at the beginning, no one expected this to become so big to the point where we are today. But everyone knew that I was going to be able to do something,” says Núñez Vicente.

“If you had asked me earlier, I would have told you that maybe it was just a college project. If you ask me now, after all the [trabajo] hard, after all the effort of many, many people… I would say that now this is more of a reality.

“We see it as the future of economy class.”

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