For years, passengers have been complaining about the tight quarters when flying economy. But now, more than ever, there's a need to rethink standard seating in the face of social distancing. Luckily, one man has already spent the past few years devising a way to give economy passengers the ride that they deserve.
Designer Jeffrey O'Neill first contemplated tackling airline seating while flying from New York to Singapore. He wondered why it wasn't possible to devise a way for people to lie down and enjoy some sleep during the long-haul flight.
“I'm on probably the best rated airline in the world, and I'm getting wonderful service and the food is edible, but I can't sleep,” he shared. “This is really uncomfortable. Why is it so difficult to find an affordable way to lie flat on a flight that's 19 hours?”
After thinking about comfortable bus rides he'd taken in Argentina, where bunk beds were used, he came up with a plan. Real estate on planes is valuable, which is why most airlines don't want to reconfigure their seating. But through his company Zephyr Aerospace, he devised a double-decker 2-4-2 seating arrangement that won't cost airlines any seats. And, as luck would have it, the design also provides increased privacy and isolation—something travelers are looking for now.
The Zephyr Seat allows passengers to stretch their legs, lounge, or lie down. By using the space between an existing seat and the overhead locker, O'Neill was able to accommodate a whole other layer of seats. And, best of all, the design can be retrofitted to most cabins—a great incentive for airlines to make the switch.
“We basically retrofitted a whole other seat on top of another,” shares O'Neill. “So it's essentially two levels, it's not as tall off the ground as people might imagine, it's only four and a half feet off the ground from the entry point to the lower seat to the upper seat.”
O'Neill has spent the last two years taking the Zephyr Seat from concept to a mock-up and has already found an engineering partner. He first presented his design to the aviation industry at the 2019 Airline Interiors Expo in Germany and used feedback from airlines to then tweak the product. While he's been in talks with several major airlines, nothing is concrete yet. However, with the coronavirus sure to change the way we travel, it wouldn't be surprising if his phone starts ringing off the hook.
For things to move forward, the Zephyr Seat will now need to pass safety tests. These could take about three years, so we're still a ways off from being able to fly economy in style. If you believe in the product and are interested in getting involved, the U.S.-based startup is currently accepting investors.