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Brief Published: 3 Jul 2020

Are Lie-Flat Airline Seats the Future of Premium Economy?

Zephyr Aerospace

US start-up Zephyr Aerospace has devised two-tier, bunk-style premium economy seats that would let airlines maintain passenger density while practising social distancing – not to mention making long-haulers more comfortable. With the aviation industry in flux (see Covid-19 + Airlines), carriers have a fertile opportunity to reimagine outdated, uncomfortable seating formats.

Zephyr’s proposed model, the Zephyr Seat, would let passengers lie flat during long-haul flights by giving them an extended bench seat and adjacent footrest. Travellers could then lay diagonally across the seat and footrest to sleep. 

The seats are installed as double-decker bunks that replace the overhead luggage bin with an extra seat, allowing airlines to retain the same overall number of seats in premium economy. To reach the upper bunk, passengers climb a 4.5ft mini-ladder – offering better social distancing than if they were seated side by side. This design has gained interest from large airlines like US-based Delta

The configuration could convince economy passengers to upgrade to premium economy, especially as flight routes grow longer and demand for lie-flat economy seating grows. In fact, we’ve already seen Air New Zealand propose bunk beds for its ultra-long-haul flight from Auckland to New York. Airlines that redesign their cabins could convince travellers of all budgets to invest in these ultra-long-haul routes (and avoid lengthy, crowded waits at multiple airports), giving them a market advantage in the post-pandemic economy.

Zephyr’s solution isn’t the first seating arrangement we’ve seen that aims to address social distancing in cramped cabins. Airlines are also rethinking the middle seat, suggesting that post-pandemic planes are likely to function differently as they work to address the passenger concerns we note in Profiling the Future Traveller

For more on next-gen airplane experiences, see Reimagining the Flight of the Future and Elastic Airlines.