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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
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@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 – user141 Nov 8 '13 at 9:15
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@Frietjeoorlog So then the plane could be used only for night flights? – gerrit Nov 8 '13 at 18:07
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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
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I have wanted this for years. I travel in sleeper trains in Europe and Asia and I have seen sleeper buses in Asia too. Perhaps Virgin will give it a try. I would also love to see an area on the plane where you could stretch or do yoga during the flight. – Michael Smith Nov 16 '13 at 2:27

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/… – user141 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 – user141 Nov 8 '13 at 12:08
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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 – Heidel Ber Gensis 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. – Heidel Ber Gensis Nov 8 '13 at 22:56

On the specific issue of meal service, the airlines could copy ancient Roman elite dining practices. See Why did Romans lie down on couches while dining? for a good illustration.

Provide a pillow or headrest that can be raised at the head end of the bed. Add a fold-down tray table. The space for the fold-down tray table could turn into extra bed length for sleeping.

The flight attendants could slide a tray of food onto the table even if it is at shoulder height. Passengers would eat reclining on one elbow, supported by the pillow. The food would have to be finger food or only require a spoon or fork.

I don't think the dancing girl and piper would be provided in economy class.

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And, if there's severe turbulence during flight, the passengers would have the opportunity to experience another (supposed) ancient Roman dining practice... – Nate Eldredge Jun 5 at 19:31
    
I don't think this answers the question; really, it's just a comment on the other answers, which say that the inability to serve meals would be a problem. – David Richerby Jun 5 at 20:19
    
@DavidRicherby Unfortunately, Stack Exchange has a serious design error that combines length and formatting limitations with whether something is posted as a comment or an answer. The two should be orthogonal. Until that is fixed I'm going to post anything that does not fit the comment limitations as an answer. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 5 at 20:21
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@PatriciaShanahan If you allow comments to have the full formatting and arbitrary length of answers, then Stack Exchange becomes a discussion forum. It's not supposed to be that. And "People could eat while reclining, like the Romans did. You'd just need a pillow or headrest and a fold-down table; food would have to be finger-food or only require a spoon or a fork. I don't think the dancing girl and piper would be provided in economy class." conveys the essence of your answer, doesn't need any formatting and fits easily within the allowed space for a comment, even with my comments alongside. – David Richerby Jun 5 at 20:37

Some more practical considerations:

  1. It will take considerably longer to do a turn around (cleaning) of the airplane between flights.

  2. Seats on airplanes have to be certified against turbulence, safety, fire suppression and even floatation.

  3. Others mentioned that there is minimum requirements for evacuation of aircraft; but there are other considerations as well. I can only imagine that boarding time will be affected as people try to climb into their beds.

  4. What would happen to the inflight entertainment system that many airlines spend millions on?

  5. Safety harnesses aren't available or practical for a bed. It is difficult enough for the aircrew to ensure that people are buckled in now, imagine the joy of having to confirm that all three belts are correctly fastened.

  6. How would you secure children?

  7. In cases of severe turbulence, you can imagine the chaos if you went flying into the bottom of your fellow bunkmate's bed.

  8. During the critical phases of flight (take off / descent / landing / taxi) you need all passengers to be as alert as possible and as secure as possible. Can you imagine the chaos trying to get the attention of people as they are laying down?

Good idea, but not practical when scaled.

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