San Francisco Startup Announces New “Lie-Flat” Airplane Seat Idea

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As travel restrictions ease and airlines look to encourage more travel, SF startup Zephyr Aerospace has a new seat design idea to enhance the flying experience.

SAN FRANCISCO—On Monday, June 8, Zephyr Aerospace, a startup based in San Francisco, revealed a design concept for airplane seating that combines a seat and a bed so that passengers can lie down while flying.

The Zephyr Seat would be the first lie-flat seating option for premium economy travelers. The seat design would be “double-decker” in order to provide the same seating volume that is currently available in premium economy arrangements on airplanes. Travelers seated on an upper deck would have access to a ladder to get from level to level.

This rendering presents the vision for what Zephyr seating would look like. Photo courtesy of the Zephyr website.

The idea is still in its concept phase, but Zephyr has reached out to over 20 airlines with a mockup of the seat design and claims to have received positive feedback.

Zephyr CEO Jefferey O’Neill told the San Francisco News that the company would want to partner with airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, or Qatar Airways.

American Airlines and JetBlue told the San Francisco News that they are both aware of the Zephyr design concept, but do not have further comments because the Zephyr Seat is still in its concept phase.

The Zephyr Seat comes at a time when the airline industry has faced significant obstacles due to the travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A report by Airlines for America, updated on Monday, June 8, noted that demand for future U.S. air travel declined by 82 percent in the last week of May.

As noted in Zephyr’s press release, the Zephyr seat could help airplanes maintain social distancing rules and also could “revolutionize the in-flight experience as airlines encourage people to travel again.”

Despite the product’s new relevance, O’Neill got the idea for the Zephyr Seat in 2018. He was riding a 19-hour flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Singapore Changi Airport, which happens to be the second-longest flight in the world. O’Neill chose to fly Premium Economy Class because Business Class had been five times as expensive. As he passed the hours on board, O’Neill remembers quality flight service, but still questioned why he could not lie down to go to sleep.

“There must be a better way to make inflight sleep more affordable (without paying for Business Class),” O’Neill recalls thinking to himself, “So I designed a better seat.”