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Lie-flat seats in business class, are a fact of life. Even private cabins and showers are now a fact of life on airplanes. I have traveled on bunk beds in economy style class train cabins for >22 hours trips in China. Every time I travel on cramped economy class long-haul journey, I wonder why this concept isn't implemented in the airline industry?

Wouldn't it allow the same number of travelers, but with a lot more comfort?

I can imagine there are safety concerns, but is it really more complicated to get out of a bunk bed than a 10 across or even 11 across row in case of an emergency?

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Were those Chinese train bunks convertible for daytime use? –  gerrit Nov 8 '13 at 9:08
@gerrit no, but reading a book or watching a film during daytime was still more comfortable lying on a bed then sitting on a airline economy seat –  andra Nov 8 '13 at 9:15
For me, this question means turning the whole airplanes to a large crew rest area... –  MeNoTalk Nov 8 '13 at 11:39
@Frietjeoorlog So then the plane could be used only for night flights? –  gerrit Nov 8 '13 at 18:07
I've wanted these for ages. Like those podhotels, I could totally just lie on a bunk on a plane for 12-15 hours, watch some movies and nap. The only awkward bit is eating, I guess. –  Mark Mayo Nov 13 '13 at 0:59

2 Answers 2

Technically it's entirely possible, and airplane manufacturers release sketches like this regularly. There are three intertwingled main reasons why this hasn't (cough) taken off yet in practice:

  1. Airplanes have really tight regulatory safety requirements, including everybody on board being able to evacuate within a certain number of seconds, and this is tested with live drills using real planes and real people. Evacuating fast would be difficult to do with bunk beds, and merely seeing if it's possible would be a very expensive exercise.

  2. Major airlines currently make a lot of money by charging $10,000 for long-haul lie-flat business class seats. Introducing flat beds in economy would be unlikely make up for the lost revenue.

  3. Bunk beds are only sensible on long-haul flights, which require big, expensive planes, and good local feeder networks to channel people in. This makes it a tough market to break into for a new upstart (who doesn't have that business class revenue to lose) to finance the attempt.

So you need a large airline with no premium seating and a lot of money that they're willing to burn on an exercise that may flop before the first flight. The only ones that really fit the bill are the biggest low-cost carriers like Ryanair, but they're known for penny-pinching, not leaps of faith, so I'm not holding my breath. Air Asia, are you listening?

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You post made me google and stumble upon: ausbt.com.au/… –  andra Nov 15 '13 at 9:48

Some of the problems that airlines and manufacturers will face (just a guess):

  • Where do passengers stow their luggage? making compartments for that will lead to less passenger capacity.
  • Bunks, such as crew bunks are not certified for take offs and landings. Except for stretcher cases where patients have to be strapped by three belts. I do not think this is doable for all passengers.
  • I do not think trains face the same amount/severity of turbulence as airplanes.
  • The tube shaped fuselage makes it even harder to design more than 2 tier bunks unlike some trains. It could be doable in larger planes.
  • How will the crew distribute the meals? a 3-4 tier service carts? not doable.

Regarding 11 seats across, this is not a problem at all. These 11 seats in a row will be divided by two aisles. The only layout in I can think of is 3-5-3 (Thanks to Nate's comment), making it possible for everyone to jump into the aisle easily.

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I'll skip airplane food for a proper bed and a good book, but the rest makes sense –  andra Nov 8 '13 at 12:08
Also regarding food, if the plane only has bunks, passengers wouldn't be able to sit up to eat. You can't very well eat while lying down. I suppose there could be a dining area with seating, where passengers eat in shifts, but that cuts into space again. –  Nate Eldredge Nov 8 '13 at 22:49
For seating 11 across, my understanding is that safety rules require that every passenger be able to reach an aisle by climbing over at most 2 seats. 4-3-4 would violate this for the window seats. 3-5-3 would be fine, however, or even 3-6-3. –  Nate Eldredge Nov 8 '13 at 22:51
@NateEldredge you are right about that.. I missed the 3-5-3 layout.. this would be the logical option –  MeNoTalk Nov 8 '13 at 22:52
@NateEldredge In the airlines I work at, we had 2-5-2 layout, it is a bad one, not the passengers nor the airlines were happy about it, it was changed to 3-4-3.. the one sitting in the middle of a layout with 5 seats in a row will be totally uncomfortable. –  MeNoTalk Nov 8 '13 at 22:56

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