After months stuck inside our homes, people around the world are itching to stretch their legs and start traveling again this summer and fall. But with a vaccine for Covid-19 still in development, the risks of traveling could outweigh the benefits for many. Enter: Zephyr Aerospace. This two-year-old startup is looking to make airline travel safer and more comfortable with its socially distant, lay-flat airline seats.
"People will ultimately stop being afraid of someone coughing on them, but when it passes, air travel is still going to suck."
Part of what makes airline travel, especially long-haul international flights, so concerning in the age of Covid-19 is the limited distance you'll be able to get from your fellow passengers, as well as the recycled air everyone will be sharing. Typical economy and business class seating places either one or two strangers on either side of you, making it impossible to not bump elbows let alone keep a safe 6-foot distance.
Zephyr's new seating design would allow airlines to keep the same seating density they had before while simultaneously creating a safe distance between passengers. Its design is able to do this by making use of overhead space that had previously been used for baggage and nesting seats together.
The startup says these seats would offer first-class comfort at a premium economy class price thanks to its unique nested design that provides passengers space to stretch out their legs and even lay down during the flight. Jeffery O'Neill, the San Francisco based startup's founder and CEO, tells Inverse that these seats are meant to be a throwback to the age of airlines where flying was a luxurious experience for all passengers, not just those at the front of the cabin.
"In many ways, airlines fail at the simplest thing, which is product differentiation," says O'Neill. "Almost every single seat you see in the industry is identical, and I think it really stifles consumers' expectations of what they experience on their next flight. What if there was a way airlines could make you happier by just slightly modifying the passenger experience? It's not impossible."
In addition to restoring dignity to the flight experience, these Zephyr seats would also make it possible to fly while still maintaining crucial social distancing measures, O'Neill tells Inverse.
"What we do is take this idea of what a perfect business class seat would be... and we try to build a private environment the wraps around the passenger. So they have the utmost in personal space and comfort, but also the ability to be completely private if they want to be."
The Zephyr Seat has been in development for the past 18-months in this past year demonstrated its first prototype to airline executives at a trade show. Currently, the seat is being crowd-funded on Republic and has reached a little over a third of its funding goal with 60-days remaining. O'Neill tells Inverse that the startup's next goal is to find an airline partner to move forward with on getting FDA certifications for its seats.
As airlines struggle to emerge from the Covid-19 fog, O'Neill says that now, more than ever, customers will be looking for more privacy and control over their flying experience.
"People will ultimately stop being afraid of someone coughing on them," says O'Neill. "This will pass. But when it passes, air travel is still going to suck.... [The solution] is really about giving options and choice to consumers. We think that ultimately has the greatest value to an airline longterm... and I think it universally benefits every traveler."