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This double-decker airline seat is the stuff of budget travel dreams

Feb. 26, 2020
6 min read
This double-decker airline seat is the stuff of budget travel dreams
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Editor's Note

/strong> This story has been updated to reflect that Zephyr is not affiliated with Hong Kong studio Paperclip Design. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Zephyr is not affiliated with Hong Kong studio Paperclip Design.


Traveling is delightful, but sometimes the experience itself is not — especially for coach cabin travelers. "Cattle class" and "sardine can" may be insulting nicknames for economy class, but they are indicative of the general public's frustration with increasingly crowded cabins.

New: Lie-flat beds for economy could become a reality with Air New Zealand bunk bed-style pods

Related: The evolution of the airline seat

In fact, cramped quarters can even contribute to the likelihood of developing blood clots from deep-vein thrombosis. Medical experts caution people to move about frequently when traveling. But when seat rows are as tightly situated as they often are these days, people may feel uncomfortable asking their fellow travelers for access to the aisle, leading to long hours stuck in a seat.

Enter Zephyr, a new wide-body aircraft seat prototype designed to eliminate most of the frustrations of coach class misery. The brainchild of a self-proclaimed "perennial traveler" who has visited 171 countries, these seats offer business-class privacy and comfort at premium economy prices.

Related: Travel etiquette experts declare the final word on the right to recline

"We should not be having these ridiculous discussions about asking permission to recline a seat or get to the bathroom," said Jeffrey O'Neill, who designed the Zephyr. Instead, O'Neill believes that customers deserve the right to decide how to utilize the small slice of sky real estate they paid for.

"Why are we even giving airlines the option to tell us how we can and cannot travel?" O'Neill told The Points Guy. "Privacy should be accessible and affordable, and [airlines] should improve their customers' in-flight experience."

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When it comes to travel, O'Neill sees a lot of attention directed toward consumer experience — or lack thereof — by both customers and airlines alike. Yet he believes that the true foundation of mid-air comfort begins with a better, more memorable hard product: the plane seat itself, and everything surrounding it.

To that end, the Zephyr utilizes a double-decker design in a 1-2-1 configuration to offer aisle access for every single passenger while providing privacy for free. "You basically have your own space," O'Neill told TPG. That's a nearly unheard-of luxury in the premium economy space.

Each semi-private seat is staggered from its neighbors, providing as much privacy as possible within a few square feet. The efficient use of space accommodates the same number of premium economy seats as today's cabins, ensuring that a carrier's bottom line will not impacted in favor of consumer comfort.

The seat itself stays in a slight, fixed recline and doesn't include any moving parts, relying instead on zero-gravity design to keep travelers comfortable while seated upright.

Image courtesy of Zephyr
(Image courtesy of Zephyr)

A cubby situated at eye level keeps personal items close at hand during the flight, and a built-in ladder slides out to let upper-deck passengers into their seats, retracting into a recessed nook when not in use.

Large in-flight entertainment screens, a spacious tray/desk/armrest for electronics charging at the built-in outlet plugs, and recessed LED lights round out the Zephyr hard product, at least at first glance.

But where the Zephyr really shines is at bedtime, when each premium economy traveler gets to lie down — a luxury that isn't always available even in some business class cabins. "The bed is the 'more' when it comes to long-haul flights," O'Neill told TPG — "what a modern-day traveler really values above all else."

Instead of converting into a straight lie-flat bed, the Zephyr uses a supplemental cushion to connect two padded sections of the seat into a flat bed where the passenger sleeps at an angle.

While that may not be every traveler's cup of tea, O'Neill wagers that most premium-economy customers will still find it infinitely preferable to sitting semi-upright for 14 hours. (Another prototype design company, Butterfly Seating, utilizes a similarly angled bed for the business-class version of its cabin-flexible seat prototype.)

Courtesy of Zephyr

"Airlines are unwilling to make big changes without knowing what the modern-day traveler wants and is willing to pay for," O'Neill said. Yet consumers are speaking up more and more, with both their words and their dollars.

Points-savvy travelers know to utilize points and miles for truly aspirational redemptions, such as the Etihad A380's first-class apartments. But O'Neill, a seasoned traveler and avid points and miles collector himself, believes that airlines can price the Zephyr competitively enough for customers to pay for it outright, in cash.

Related: The worst business class I ever flew

"We're hoping to cut business-class seat prices in half" with the Zephyr, O'Neill told TPG. Current premium economy flights from California to Europe cost just over $1,400 round-trip, while flights from New York to Hong Kong cost about the same. "That's ideally right in line with what Zephyr seats will cost."

As of now, no airlines have committed to implementing the Zephyr. But that won't stop the designers from continuing to improve their concept.

At the end of the day, "We're customers who are paying for seats," O'Neill said. "What if you could do whatever you want in that seat, period?"

All images and video courtesy of Zephyr.

Featured image by Image courtesy of Zephyr.

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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
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1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.