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One of the more interesting things I’ve seen at the Aircraft Interior Expo is the double-decker seat concept by a Spanish startup called Chaise Longue. The product has been reported on at length, and its premise is simple: since vertical space inside aircraft cabins is mostly unused, staggering seats vertically unlocks previously underutilized space.
The internet’s response, by and large, has been very negative. Here are a few particularly good ones:
- “The people up high can bomb farts straight to the other’s face.”
- “They could fit WAY more passengers in than that if they just arranged them horizontally and stacked them up like cordwood.”
- “As if being on a plane isn’t miserable enough already.”
Having sat in these seats, however, I’ve come to a surprising conclusion: they’re absolutely fantastic and I hope they make it into the sky. Here’s why.
A quick primer
This design comprises two levels of economy class seats, stacked diagonally over each other. To accommodate the upper row, overhead bins will need to be omitted, similar to what’s done in many business class cabins.
The seats are a concept developed by a tiny Madrid-based company (they’ve got just four full-time employees!) called Chaise Longue. Not yet safety-certified, the product is at least three years away from entering the market.
Video and pictures
To give you a better sense of these seats, I’ve taken pictures and a video of the latest demo version currently displayed in Hamburg.
These seats are really, really, really comfortable
The biggest advantage of these seats is, by far, that they’re significantly more comfortable than any economy or premium economy seat I’ve ever sat in. I honestly can’t emphasize enough how much more comfortable these are than regular seats. They recline further and have an enormous amount of legroom because the seat in front and behind are so much further away than in a conventional configuration.
I see two more benefits beyond the increased comfort of these seats:
- They’re lighter and more fuel efficient: Since these seats are all essentially part of the same structure, they weigh less than conventional seats. This fact, as well as the weight loss resulting from the lack of overhead bins, leads to substantial weight loss. That translates to per-passenger emissions that are much lower than current numbers.
- They’re more accessible: Lower-level seats can be flipped up due to their lack of legs. That means that these seats are more easily maneuverable for those with diminished mobility than a traditional economy seat. I think this largely offsets the fact that upper-level seats are more difficult to access.
Why people love to hate this seat
I’m not all that surprised by the blowback this concept has gotten: over decades of economy class cutbacks, passengers have been primed to interpret any innovation in economy cabins as detrimental to comfort. So it makes sense that the negative responses we’ve seen stem from the misunderstanding that this concept is yet another in a series of design changes that makes the airline more money at the expense of passengers.
But this is not another instance of Ryanair’s infamous toilet fee idea. In actuality, this design is primarily attractive to airlines because it offers greater passenger comfort while reducing weight. It is, contrary to what some have incorrectly written, no more floorspace-efficient than today’s economy configurations and fits the same number of passengers per square feet current economy class cabins do.
At Chaise Longue’s booth in Hamburg, I was able to chat with interested airline executives. I got the overwhelming sense that their interest in the product stems not from a desire to pack more people into economy class, but rather to create a more comfortable economy class experience without hurting their bottom line.
Crop dusting and other dangers
Common across many of the responses I’ve seen are concerns that passengers in lower seats might be positively bombarded by farts directed downward by gassy upstairs neighbors. Though it’s an amusing concern, from a scientific standpoint there are a couple of reasons not to worry:
- Air pressure and dispersion: Gas released in a fart quickly disperses in all directions due to the air pressure around it. This dispersal would be even quicker in an environment with active air circulation like an airplane cabin. It just wouldn’t move downward in a concentrated enough form to be perceived. Aside from this, farts tend to be warm which means their gasses would likely rise, not fall.
- Air circulation and ventilation: The aircraft cabin environment is engineered for a high degree of air exchange, with powerful ventilation systems designed to maintain good air quality. Airplanes typically have air circulation systems that fully exchange cabin air with fresh air from outside every 2-3 minutes. This high rate of air exchange, combined with HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of particles (including bacteria and viruses) from the recirculated air, ensures that the cabin air remains clean.
Finally, with respect to the dangers of dropping things on passengers in lower levels, it’s worth noting that in the double-decker seat configuration, the upper and lower seats are not directly stacked one above the other. The seats are arranged diagonally, decreasing the likelihood that lower-level passengers will be struck by falling objects (as well as the likelihood of any downward gaseous exchange).
Will this get certified?
When testing a new aircraft, manufacturers must demonstrate to regulators that, among many other things, passengers can evacuate the plane in under 90 seconds. Given that upper-row seating is essentially accessible via a very short ladder, it might be difficult to meet such a stringent requirement.
I’m not as worried about this as some–Air New Zealand managed to have their Skynest seats, which are essentially bunkbeds, certified and those are harder to get in and out of than these. Chaise Longue has actually partnered with SWS Certification, the company that handled Skynest’s safety certification, and generally has a track record of safety certification success.
Additionally, given that this configuration won’t add more passengers to planes, airlines won’t have to worry about adding more flight attendants per FAA regulations. These seats also seem to adhere to the FAA’s emergency landing dynamic conditions, which lay out physical requirements that seats must meet to ensure safe emergency landings.
For all its benefits, I see two issues with this concept:
- Greedy airlines: My biggest concern with these seats is that there’s nothing theoretically stopping airlines from decreasing the degree of staggering between the top and bottom seats and making everything tighter. Though that intent wasn’t expressed to me by any of the airline executives I spoke to, it would be hard to put the genie back in the bottle if they ultimately go in that direction.
- Less storage for carry-ons: Due to the lack of overhead bins over the middle row, passengers are left with only under-seat storage. That’s a big issue and I don’t know how airlines will resolve this beyond restricting carry-on baggage.
Chaise Longue’s new double-decker seating concept is a great idea, and I genuinely hope it gets to market. The biggest obstacle–bigger than safety certification–will be negative public opinion, which will ultimately inform airlines’ decisions on whether or not to install this product. At the same time, I think these seats are so comfortable that once people try them out public opinion might just turn around.