Travel & Day Trips

Airlines Want to Stack Passengers One on Top of the Other in Coach

The future of low-cost travel may involve airlines stacking Economy passengers one on top of the other. That’s the nightmarish vision of designer Alejandro Nunez Vicente, who just won a prestigious design award for the Chaise Lounge Economy Seat, his design for two-level stacked airline seats.

The seats, which have been built as a real-life prototype but have not yet been adopted by any airlines, feature two levels of seats stacked on top of each other. Passengers climb up a small step to reach the top level. On the bottom level, passengers must endure having another seat essentially right in front of their face.

The benefit? More seats crammed onto already-crowded planes, and thus potentially lower per-seat costs. The design allows even more density of passengers than is present in current Economy cabins. Airlines love the idea of adding more seats because every additional seat added to a plane increases the amount that an airline earns for each flight.

Nunez Vicente told the New York Post that the idea started out as a college project, but it’s fast turning into reality. He has exhibited a prototype of the design at prominent airline trade shows and reportedly found investors to help further develop it.

There are some issues. The design requires removing overhead bins, so passengers must squeeze their luggage into the space in front of their feet. The top row is also so close to the ceiling of the plane that passengers seated there can’t stand up fully.

Still, Nunez Vicente insists that he set out to improve the flying experience for Economy passengers, not to torture them. He’s on the side of passengers, not necessarily the airlines, he says. The two-level configuration reportedly allows for some enhanced creature comforts, including more leg room and even lie-flat seats in certain configurations.

The design is also intended to open up airline travel to more people, Nunez Vicente says. Currently, air travel is available only to a relatively wealthy slice of the world’s population, cutting others off from the opportunity to travel abroad or travel for work. Stacking passengers should lower fares, opening up flights to a broader range of people.

The trend mirrors several other trends that focus on eliminating personal space in order to reduce costs and make the world more equitable. The tiny house movement reflects many of the same tendencies, as do the launch of co-living and shared travel arrangements. Many cities now offer dwellings as small as 100 square feet with shared common areas or even larger dwellings subdivided into personal, stackable pods.

It also mirrors an ongoing trend in the airline industry towards cramming more and more people into the same aircraft. Airlines now routinely implement 10-abreast seating, squeezing ten people into a single row, to maximize revenue and keep ticket costs down.

Still, it’s unclear whether airlines will actually implement a stacked design or whether passengers would really tolerate it. Perhaps on extremely low-priced, short-haul flights (such as those between different European countries), such a configuration would make sense. But it’s hard to imagine passengers accepting a stacked seating arrangement on longer flights.

The seats would also need to clear safety testing, ensuring that they could still allow for the use of oxygen masks and life preservers and ensuring that passengers could still escape from them quickly in the event of an emergency.

What do you think? Would you fly in a double-decker airline seat if the price was right?

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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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