Editor’s Note — Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that highlights some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In June, we’ll take to the skies to check out the latest advances in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.
Hamburg (CNN) — Flying for an extended period of time is an experience usually endured rather than enjoyed, but an airline seat designer thinks his design could revolutionize budget travel.
Alejandro Núñez Vicente’s Chaise Longue Airplane Seat concept started on a small scale last year, as a university project for the then 21-year-old. A nomination in the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards – a top prize in the airline industry – soon followed, and the design became the focus of a flurry of online attention following a CNN Travel article.
Since then, Núñez Vicente has been causing a furore in the aviation world. He has taken a break from his master’s degree to work full-time on the project. He is in talks with major airlines and seat manufacturers. He has received a substantial investment that has allowed the project to develop.
But while some marvel at Núñez Vicente’s innovation, others recoil, concerned about claustrophobia and convinced that being under someone else would be worse, not better, than the current set-up of the airline economy.
“I grow more from listening to the critics and listening to the bad comments than listening to the good comments and the flowers they throw at me,” said Núñez Vicente, speaking to CNN Travel in Hamburg, Germany, where he showing his design at the 2022 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX).
His design is for the everyday traveler, so Núñez Vicente says he’s eager to hear what potential fliers have to say, positive or negative.
“My goal here is to change the economy class seats for the sake of humanity, or for all the people who can’t afford to pay more expensive tickets,” he says.
Núñez Vicente will receive even more feedback this week. AIX is one of the world’s largest aviation shows and is premiering the first full-scale prototype of its design.
CNN Travel dropped by to get a taste of what it might be like to fly on a double-decker airplane seat.
Testing the concept
The chaise longue aircraft seat on display at AIX 2022 Hamburg.
First, the highest level. Núñez Vicente’s designed the prototype with two ladder-like steps that travelers can use to access the main level. It’s a little tricky, but once I’m on the top, the seat feels roomy and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room to stretch my legs. The prototype seats don’t move, but they’re each arranged in a different position to indicate how to recline.
Núñez Vicente’s design does away with the upper cabin. Instead, it designed space between the top and bottom levels for travelers to store carry-on luggage.
In the huge, echoing halls of the Hamburg Messe convention center, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be so close to the cabin ceiling. Núñez Vicente estimates that there would be about 1.5 meters between the seated passenger and the top of the plane. He argues that while a traveler can’t stand up straight in that space, many already can’t stand up straight in regular economy rows — though these taller travelers are likely to be crushed even more by this design.
Then try the bottom row of seats. Núñez Vicente’s frustration with a lack of legroom was the original impetus for the design, and not sitting at the same height in front of me allows me to stretch my legs, and there’s a footrest for extra comfort.
Still, it feels quite claustrophobic as the other levels of seats are directly above me and in my eyeline. But if you don’t have a problem with tight spaces, and you plan on just sleeping the entire flight, this can be an effective solution.
The cocoon-like spaces have a footstool where passengers can stretch their legs.
The seat of the chaise longue was originally intended for the Flying-V aircraft, a new aircraft concept currently being developed at TU Delft, Núñez Vicente’s alma mater.
Now he thinks the design could be implemented in a Boeing 747, Airbus A330 or any other medium to large wide-body aircraft.
Núñez Vicente is ambitious and confident that his design can become reality, but he also recognizes that unusual ideas for airplane seats don’t often materialize from concept to reality. It is a lengthy process and the industry’s strict rules and regulations can become obstacles.
Moreover, the economy seat in the airplane has not really changed in the last few decades, even though many reimagined concepts have been put forward by designers.
“One of the phrases I get a lot is ‘If it ain’t broke, why change it?’” admits Núñez Vicente. “So if passengers are still flying in the worst economy class seats, why are we going to give them a better option? It makes money. That is ultimately the airline’s goal, not to make your flight better.”
Still, the chair designer is already working on the next step in his process, to make the structure lighter than the current iteration.
He hopes to partner with an airline or seat manufacturer to make that happen.
“Right now we’re showing the market what we’ve got. And we’re letting the market come and tell us what to do next,” he says.
Núñez Vicente may now be working with industry experts with years of experience, but the project started in his bedroom at his parents’ home, and his family remains a big part of the process.
He’s with his parents in tow at AIX — they drove the Chaise Longue prototype in a van across Europe and helped him set up the seat on the spot.
“Of course, at the beginning, nobody expected this to get this big to the point where we are now. But they all knew I could do something,” says Núñez Vicente.
“If you had asked me earlier, I would have said it might just be a university project. If you had asked me now, after all the hard [work], after all the efforts of many, many people — I would say this is more of a reality now. We see it as the future of economy class.”