The airlines are always trying to jam more passengers into each plane. I'm smaller than today's average, and I'm still often uncomfortable in a standard Economy seat.

It occurred to me that in the current design, there's a great deal of space wasted over the passengers' heads. And that many of us passengers already do our best to sleep through flights.

Hence my question: Is there any reason an airline couldn't introduce a cabin in which some or all passengers travel in a reclining, rather than sitting, position? Seems to me that it would be more comfortable (except for claustrophobes and those who really need to work during the flight). The enclosed space would inherently reduce some of the risks of passengers being thrown around in turbulence or an emergency landing; safety belts (or cargo restraint webbing? I'm not sure I'm joking) could handle the remaining risk.

No, I don't really think it would be commercially viable ... but I'm wondering whether folks who actually Know Something about aircraft safety and loading think it's technically viable.

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    I'm not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but there's Air New Zealand "cuddle class". That doesn't do much for packing more people in though. – Greg Hewgill Apr 5 '14 at 3:57
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    I'm seeing Fifth Element's (a movie) cabin in the space plane that takes Korbin Dallas to the Fhloston Paradise Cruise Liner.... of course we'd need the sleepy time gas as well... I'd pay for that. – CGCampbell Sep 6 '14 at 4:10
  • "It occurred to me that in the current design, there's a great deal of space wasted over the passengers' heads." Well, you definitely confirmed your previous statement that you're smaller than average with that part. - haha - In regional jets, I literally have to duck the exit signs in the aisle and I'm only 6'1". The higher ceilings of wide-bodies are very welcome as they are for tall people. – reirab Sep 22 '14 at 16:07
  • No objection to a high-ceilinged aisle. But it feels like there should be better ways of packing humans which are no more claustrophobic -- perhaps less. – keshlam Sep 22 '14 at 16:10
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    There was once a type of railroad sleeping car called a Slumbercoach where sleeping compartments alternated high-low, nested into each other. It put 2 compartments about every 7.5 lineal feet of car. The rooms even included a bathroom that didn't require you to fold up the bed (not necessary in airline service but the formfactor of railroad cars left them with a lot of useless space). The trick would be airframe mods to put a window in every compartment. Like all sleepers it converted from day seating to night bed. – Harper Oct 19 '17 at 22:13

Some airlines already offer sleeping facilities, by taking advantage of the A380's tremendous size:

A double-bed suite on Singapore Airlines


A first-class seat on Emirates


A first-class seat on Qantas


That top bed looks very tempting, but I dread to think how much it costs!

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    Etihad's First Class has a cabin. The cost is I think 7-10 grands whereas in economy people pay $1000. – Farhan Apr 5 '14 at 15:15
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    What do the people in the bed up top do for take-off/landing? – cpast Apr 9 '14 at 1:44
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    @cpast There's an armchair in the suites, too. – reirab Sep 25 '14 at 16:52

@Danny Beckett has already covered the more luxurious variants of reclining seats very well, but I wanted to answer your point about "wasted space". The space above the passengers' heads is currently used for hand luggage, so you'd need to find somewhere else to store that. But even if you solved that, there are a few major issues to consider:

  • The maximum number of passengers in a plane is limited by the number and size of the doors (for evacuation, you need to be able to get all passengers out in 90 seconds in case of a crash landing). If you put more people into the cabin you would need more/larger doors, so depending on the design of the plane it might not be feasible to try and cram more passengers in. (see also: unusual seating arrangements)
  • The "evacuate in 90 seconds" rule bites you in a second way: In an emergency, getting out of a standard airline seat, running down the aisle, and out the door is (reasonably) quick. If you had to climb down from your bed under the ceiling first, it would take much more time.
  • The rules for passenger safety during a crash (or severe turbulence) are pretty strict. Any reclining chair can be put upright (and designers assume that passengers will have sufficient warning of a crash/turbulence to put their seats upright, and be reasonably well strapped in and protected), but if you're lying down there isn't a good way to stop you from bouncing off the walls or ceiling (or, even if you're wearing some kind of belt, from hitting your head on said walls or ceiling). In short, lying down is not a safe position to be in in an emergency.
  • From a practical point of view, I don't think flying while lying down in a cramped space is all that comfortable, especially for long-haul. You would have to climb down into the aisle to walk around or go to the toilet, you would have to eat/read/watch TV while lying down, not to mention the extra difficulty of climbing over the person in the berth next to you if there is more than one berth on each side of the aisle. (thank you to @Peter Kämpf for the additional input!)

In conclusion, it's currently not technically feasible to design an airplane cabin which would meet aviation safety rules with bunks above the passenger heads.

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    You may want to add that even without an emergency, people walk around all the time. Berth width would necessitate two each side of an aisle - how do you get out from a window berth? And then there is meal service - would you want to eat while sitting or while lying down in a small tube? – Peter Kämpf Jun 12 '15 at 15:10
  • Made me think a system where the space for entry and exit is in the ground facility. People get in, machines move the pods to plane, the plane travels, machines off-load the pods, and then people get off. This might be legal if the pods were capable of floating and light enough to fall at a speed they can survive, if the pilot pushes "emergency eject pods" while airborne. An airbag system would make for slower falls, protect from impacts, and allow floating in the sea until rescue. The plane would only need the space for visiting toilets one at a time. Obviously no walking around or eating. – Ville Niemi Jun 12 '15 at 15:20
  • @Lightsider Airbus have now filed a patent for two level seating - see my answer. – user11516 Oct 6 '15 at 22:11

Airbus recently filed a patent for a two-level seating that looks like this:

enter image description here

enter image description here

(Both of these images came from Airbus and the European Patent Office)

Since this is just a patent application there's no indication how this might be certified, or whether it will enter production at all.

It's not clear to me whether this is a way to pack in more passengers, or a way to persuade them to pay a premium fare for more room.

One patent application relating to this is here - there may be others.

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    Heaven help you if the guy "upstairs" orders the burritos for his in flight meal! – FreeMan Oct 7 '15 at 15:46

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