A stand-up airplane seat, an overhead locker that’s converted into a bed and a double-decker airplane cabin. These are some of the most eye-catching – and unusual – airplane seat designs to crop up in recent years, aiming to revolutionize the inflight experience.
Airplane cabin design has always been about continuous innovation – that’s how we got the lie-flat airplane seat that’s now omnipresent in business class cabins, or a tray table that folds neatly into your arm rest.
From fitting more passengers into the cabin to giving travelers unexpected space to stretch their legs, these unusual airplane seat designs seek to problem-solve common inflight dilemmas.
The Chaise Longue Economy Seat Project
Alejandro Núñez Vicente’s Chaise Longue dual-level airplane cabin design eliminates the overhead luggage compartment to create a double-decker airplane seat configuration.
The Chaise Longue made waves earlier this year when it was nominated for a 2021 Crystal Cabin Award.
In May 2021, TU Delft University student Núñez Vicente told CNN Travel he was inspired by his experiences flying economy across Europe from his home in Spain to college in the Netherlands.
Núñez Vicente’s goal was to create more space for travelers to stretch out their legs. The seat design also offers more recline angles, as well as an adjustable back-rest and a deployable neck-rest.
Over summer 2021, Núñez Vicente traveled around Europe with a prototype of his design, speaking to aviation professionals and industry experts to collect feedback, getting several steps closer to making the design a reality.
Preliminary feedback from would-be passengers who tried the prototype was positive, says Núñez Vicente.
While the configuration was initially envisaged for the Flying-V airplane, a new airplane concept currently in development at TU Delft, Núñez Vicente says it could also be implemented in a Boeing 747, Airbus A330 or any other medium to large wide-body airplane.
“We’ve had a lot of interest right now from the aviation industry, especially from seat manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers, and several airlines have approached us,” says Núñez Vicente in a new interview with CNN Travel.
Private investors have also expressed interest, he adds.
Núñez Vicente continues to reckon his design could transform the economy class pain points.
“The goal of the seat was always to increase the comfort and the flight experience to enhance the flight experience of passengers on long-haul flights – and it still is,” he says.
Testing out the Skyrider -- the latest "standing-up seat" concept
Aviointeriors’ Skyrider “standing seat” concept, with its bike-style saddle, has become somewhat infamous in the aviation world.
First floated back in 2010, the seat has evolved in the years since, but underlining it is the same idea: the Skyrider takes up way less space than the average economy seat – with a seat pitch of just 23 inches.
CNN Travel tested out the third iteration of the seat design at the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2019 and questioned how long someone could sit in that uncomfortable position.
“The message is, we do not want to put thousands of people in the cabin, we want to offer a multi-class configuration, which is nowadays impossible if you want to reach the maximum load of passengers,” Gaetano Perugini, engineering adviser at Aviointeriors, told CNN Travel at that conference.
Since then, the Skyrider 3.0 has been tweaked a bit. Aviointeriors says a fourth iteration of the design has improved the seat’s saddle ergonomy, introduced an angled backrest and increased shoulder space for passengers.
The 23-inch pitch of the Skyrider isn’t currently allowed by certification by most airplanes, where 28 inches is the minimum. Aviointeriors is aware of this and the potential challenge it presents.
“When we have behind us a strong customer […] we can sit around with Airbus or Boeing and explain,” said Perugini in Hamburg in 2019.
Perugini tells CNN Travel today that finished seat samples of the fourth edition of the Skyrider aren’t currently available, but the design has been completed.
Heinkel Group’s Flex Lounge concept was shortlisted for a Crystal Cabin Award in 2020.
The design envisaged a flexible configuration for seats in economy cabins – the idea being that post take-off, flight attendants can rearrange the rows so that passengers traveling together can face one another in rows of three.
While the design turned heads, former Heinkel Group director Tom Heinkel tells CNN Travel he sold his company, and is no longer focused on aviation design.
Another double-decker concept comes in the shape of Jeffrey O’Neill’s Zephyr Seat, which imagines double-decker lie-flat seats in a premium economy cabin.
Speaking to CNN Travel in 2020, O’Neill said he was inspired by a sleepless flight from New York to Singapore. He’d found himself recalling a much better sleep spent on a bunk bed on a long-distance bus, and wondered if something similar could be implemented on an airplane.
Over the past year, O’Neill says he has been focus group testing and trialling a physical mock-up of the Zephyr Seat. He says he’s also made some adjustments to the design for feasibility’s sake.
“We did some simulated testing earlier this year, and the results of those tests led us to modify the design – a design that would be more apt to be ultimately approved from a safety standpoint,” he says.
In the new concept, the “top bunk” layer of seats isn’t as high as O’Neill initially envisaged, and rather than imagining a ladder to the upper bunk, new renderings include steps instead.
“What we have now is what we are looking to go to market with, we’re looking to sell to airlines and bring to the industry,” says O’Neill.
Toyota Cloud Capsule
Another design that rethinks the top section of the airplane cabin is Toyota Boshoku’s Cloud Capsule Concept. Shortlisted for the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards, the design transforms overhead locker space into capsule beds.
Toyota Boshoku says the design is inspired by Japanese capsule hotels, with their sleeping pods. The idea is economy class passengers can use the traditional airplane seat below, but are also able to make use of the overhead locker beds above once the airplane is in the air.
Travelers would place their bags under their seats, and seats would be slightly further from the ground to accommodate this move away from overhead luggage.
“Economy class passengers will be able to enjoy their flights in a safer and more comfortable manner,” reads a Toyota press release from earlier this summer. “It allows passengers to have their own private space in which to relax or to focus on work.”
There’s some precedent for replacing overhead lockers with beds – the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, which flew transatlantic in the 1950s, included overhead compartment beds.
Photos: new airplane seat design has space to rest your head
The Interspace airplane seat design includes padded wings that manually fold in and out of the seat. The idea is these wings allow a traveler extra privacy, and offer them a place to rest their head while they attempt to sleep en route.
Interspace was designed by London-based company Universal Movement, who are now working with airplane seat manufacturer Safran to make the design a reality. The seat won the Judges’ Choice award at the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards.
CNN Travel tested out an Interspace prototype when the seat premiered at the Aircraft Cabin Innovation summit back in 2019.
The wings did create added privacy, and leaning against one wing, as you would if you tried to nap, was surprisingly comfy.
The idea is that Interspace’s wings could be retrofitted to existing airplane seats, or pre-built, as in the prototype.
Designer Luke Miles, who previously spent three years working as head of design at Virgin Atlantic, told CNN Travel at the 2019 launch that Interspace’s goal was to allow economy travelers “a better night’s rest, a better flight.”
As of September 2021, the seat is available to purchase.
“It’s exciting to now see this design transition from concept to reality as we make it available to offer, representing what we feel is a big step in supporting the aircraft industry and making passenger planes more comfortable thanks to our collaboration with Safran,” said Miles in a statement in September 2021.
Interspace is available on Safran’s Z600 seat. Miles tells CNN Travel it’s currently “being previewed with carriers.”