(CNN) – Flying economy class for an extended period of time is an experience that is too often tolerated rather than enjoyed, but the airline’s seat designer believes his model could revolutionize budget travel.
Alejandro Núñez Vicente’s plane seat concept started on a small scale last year, as a university project for the then 21-year-old. It was quickly nominated for the Crystal Cabin Awards 2021 – a major award in the aviation industry – and the design became the center of a wave of Internet interest after the CNN Travel article.
Since then, Núñez Vicente has not ceased to make noise in the world of aviation. Master’s degree cuts to devote himself to a full-time project. It is in talks with major airlines and seat manufacturers. He received a solid investment that allowed him to develop the project.
But while some marvel at Núñez Vicente’s innovation, others are ashamed, claustrophobic and convinced that sitting under someone else would be worse, not better, than the current economy-flying setup.
Núñez Vicente says, speaking to CNN Travel in Hamburg (Germany), where he presents his design at the Indoor Aircraft Show (AIX.) 2022.
It was designed with the traveler in mind, so Núñez Vicente says he’s willing to listen to what potential travelers have to say, whether it’s positive or negative.
“My goal is to change the economy class seats for the benefit of humanity, or for all people who can’t afford expensive tickets,” he says.
Nuñez Vicente is open for more comments this week. One of the world’s largest aviation exhibitions, AIX will be launching the first comprehensive prototype of its design.
CNN Travel stopped by to find out what it might be like to fly in the seat of a double-decker plane.
First, level up. Núñez Vicente designed the prototype with two steps in the form of a ladder for travelers to reach the upper level. It’s a little shaky, but once you’re there, the seat is roomy and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room to stretch your legs. The prototype seats don’t move, but are each positioned in a different position to indicate how they can be.
The design of the Núñez Vicente dispenses with the upper cabin. Instead, design a space between the upper and lower decks for passengers to store cabin baggage.
In the spacious halls of the Hamburg Congress Center, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to be so close to the cabin roof. Núñez Vicente calculates that there will be about 1.5 meters of space between the seated passenger and the top of the plane. He argues that although a traveler would not be able to stand upright in that space, many could no longer do so in the regular economy classes, even though taller travelers would presumably be reduced by this design.
Next is the test of the lower row of seats. Núñez Vicente’s frustration with the lack of legroom was the original motive for the design, the lack of an equally level seat in front of me that allows me to extend my legs, and a footrest for added comfort.
However, since the other level of seating is directly above me and in my line of sight, I have a claustrophobia. But if you don’t mind tight spaces, and plan to only sleep during the flight, this could be an effective solution.
The Chaise Longue seat was initially designed for the Flying-V, a new aircraft concept being developed at Delft University of Technology, alma mater Nunez Vicente.
Now, it’s believed the design could be applied to a Boeing 747, Airbus A330, or any medium-to-large wide body.
Núñez Vicente is ambitious and confident that his design can come to life, but he also knows that unusual ideas for airline seats often don’t make it from concept to reality. It’s a long process, and the sector’s strict rules and regulations can become hurdles.
Also, the economy seat on the plane has not really changed in decades, although designers have proposed several revamped concepts.
One of the phrases I receive often is: “If it ain’t broken, why should we change it?” Nunez Vicente admits. “If passengers are still traveling in the worst economy seats, why would we give them a better option? You make money. That is the airline’s goal after all, not to make your flight better.”
However, the seat designer is already working on the next step in his process: designing the chassis to be lighter than its current version.
He hopes to be able to collaborate with an airline or seat manufacturer to make this happen.
“Right now, we show the market what we have. We let the market tell us what to do next,” he says.
Núñez Vicente may now collaborate with industry experts who have years of experience, but the project started in his parents’ bedroom, and his family is still an important part of the process.
He’s at AIX with his parents, who took the prototype Chaise Longue in a truck across Europe and helped him assemble the seat on site.
“Of course, at first, no one expected this to become so big that we are today. But everyone knew I would be able to do something,” Nunez Vicente says.
“If you had asked me earlier, I would have told you that maybe it was just a college project. If you had asked me now, after all [trabajo] Difficult, after all the efforts of so many, so many people… I would say this is now a reality.
“We see it as the future of the economic class.”