I tried out a double-decker seat on an airplane.

Editor’s note. The Monthly Pass is CNN’s travel series that highlights some of the most interesting topics in the travel world. In June, we’ll take to the skies to see the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.

Hamburg (CNN) – Flying economy for any extended period of time is an experience usually endured rather than enjoyed, but one airplane seat designer believes its design could revolutionize budget travel.

Alejandro Nunez Vicente’s airplane lounger concept started last year on a small scale as a college project for the 21-year-old. A nomination for the 2021 Crystal Cabin Awards, the top prize in the aviation industry, soon followed, and design became the focus of a flurry of attention online after CNN travel article.

Since then, Nunez Vicente has made waves in the aviation world. He put his master’s degree on hold to devote himself to the project. He is negotiating with major airlines and seat manufacturers. He was given a solid investment that allowed the project to develop.

But while some admire Nunez Vicente’s innovation, others recoil, claustrophobic and convinced that sitting under someone else would be worse, not better, than the aircraft’s current economical setup.

“I grow more listening to critics and bad comments than listening to good comments and the flowers they throw at me,” Nunes Vicente tells CNN Travel in Hamburg, Germany, where he shows off his design. at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) 2022.

Its design is for everyday travelers, so Nunez Vicente says he’s interested in hearing what would-be flyers have to say, positive or negative.

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

Nunez Vicente will get even more feedback this week. AIX is one of the largest airshows in the world and presents the first full scale prototype of its design.

CNN Travel stopped by to get a feel for what it’s like to fly in a double-decker airplane seat.

Concept Testing

Chaise lounge chair at AIX 2022 in Hamburg.

Francesca Street/CNN

First, the top level. Nunez Vicente designed a prototype with two steps in the form of stairs, which travelers can use to get to the upper level. It’s a bit unreliable, but once I’m in 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 in different positions to indicate how they can recline.

Nunez Vicente’s design lacks an upper cabin. Instead, he designed a space between the upper and lower levels for travelers to carry their hand luggage.

In the huge, echo-filled hall of the Hamburg Messe, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be so close to the ceiling of the salon. Nunez Vicente believes that the distance between the seated passenger and the top of the plane is about 1.5 meters. He argues that while the traveler cannot stand upright in this space, many can no longer stand upright in regular economy rows, though presumably these taller travelers would be further crushed by such a design.

Next, try the bottom row of seats. Nunez Vicente’s frustration with the lack of legroom was the initial impetus for the design, and the lack of a flush seat in front of me allows me to stretch my legs, and there’s a footstool for added comfort.

However, having another level of seating directly above me and in line with my eyes makes it feel claustrophobic. But if you don’t mind limited space and plan on just sleeping the entire flight, this can be an effective solution.

Next steps

The cocoon-like spaces have legroom where passengers can stretch their legs.

The cocoon-like spaces have legroom where passengers can stretch their legs.

Francesca Street/CNN

The chaise longue seat was originally intended for Flying-V aircrafta new aircraft concept currently being developed at the Delft University of Technology, Nunez Vicente’s alma mater.

He now believes that this project could be implemented in a Boeing 747, Airbus A330, or any other medium to large wide-body aircraft.

Nunez Vicente is ambitious and confident that his design can become reality, but he also admits that ideas for unusual airplane seats don’t often go from concept to reality. This is a lengthy process and the strict rules and regulations of the industry can be a hindrance.

In addition, economy seats on airplanes have hardly changed in decades, even though designers have come up with many reimagined concepts.

“One of the phrases that I often hear is: “If it’s not broken, why change it?” Nunes Vicente admits. “So if passengers are still flying in the worst economy seats, why are we going to give them a better option? It brings in money. After all, it’s the airline’s goal, not to make your flight better.”

However, the seat designer is already working on the next step in their process to design a structure that is lighter than its current iteration.

He hopes to work with an airline or seat manufacturer to make that happen.

“Right now we are showing the market what we have. And we let the market come in and tell us what we need to do next,” he says.

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

He is in AIX with his parents in tow – they drove a prototype sun lounger in a van across Europe and helped him set the seat in place.

“Of course, in the beginning, no one expected it to become so big that we are today. But they all knew that I could do something,” says Nunez Vicente.

“If you had asked me earlier, I would have said that maybe this is just a university project. If you were to ask me now, after all the hard [work], after all the efforts of many, many people – I would say that now it is more than real. We see it as the future of economy class.”

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