Through the course of the pandemic airlines were forced to reinvent themselves and along the way learned a lot of newer and better ways of functioning, especially when it comes to customer centricity.  

A Shift Towards Customer Experience

Recently at the IATA Digital Symposium in Madrid, IATA President, Willie Walsh was asked what does it mean to you in this industry to be customer centric?

Answering the question he said “I think the critical issue is understanding what the customer wants rather than what we believe the customer wants.” That is currently the theme as AI, Sustainability and product differentiation make up the topic.

"We need to realize that Gen Z is coming up very quickly from our customer perspective."

These initiatives for the next 5-10 years though are not sufficient.

Kenneth Change, EVP of Marketing and IT at Korean Air said at the IATA Digital symposium, “We need to realize that Gen Z is coming up very quickly from our customer perspective. I have a kid that's that age. When I talk to him he's different. His mindset is totally different. The way he travels is different. You know 2025, 2030 by the time the customers that we are used to are going to retire and these guys will come out which means we as an airline industry also need to change the culture, the way we think.

“If we're going to provide a product to them, they're not based on pricing or the timelines. They're more about how they experience that service changes them and makes them choose. I learned this from my kid. I think as an airline if we want to be customer centric, the cultural change needs to really happen internally to support our customer expectations that are coming up.”

This shows how we need to already start think for the next era and not only the next 5 years.

Introducing the Double-Decker Seat

When focusing on the customer though, one problem has consistently stood out. Flying long-haul economy has always been a pain.

No one has ever focused on changing the economy class product other than the Cozy Suite introduced by Thompson Aero Seating, which Delta wanted to introduce in 2008.

"Long-haul economy travel has been unchanged for almost 40 years with very little enhancements aimed to improve the customer experience."

Subsequently the deal was cancelled and Thompson Aero Seating reinvested and upgraded the product year over year without acquiring another customer as of writing this.  

Chaise Longue is due to change that. The Chaise Longue is the first seat aiming for a double-decker economy cabin that takes advantage of the vertical space and gets rid of the overhead storage bins.

It enables stacked configuration of the seat, allows for more seats to fit into an aircraft, while at the same time enhancing travelers comfort by providing them with more personal space per passenger.  

A rendering of the Chaise Longue product

The seats are being developed in a way in which they are lighter than current aircraft seats (taking into account the Chaise Longue would replace not only the current economy seats, but also the overhead storage bins).

Founded by Alejandro Nunez in 2019, in cooperation with TU Delft in the Netherlands, the product is expected to launch in 2023, and the team is currently in talks with airlines.

“We believe we can make an impact. Long-haul economy travel has been unchanged for almost 40 years with very little enhancements aimed to improve the customer experience, other than a consistent decline in seat pitch and recline, which just makes the whole experience tedious and very unpleasant. We, at Chaise Longue Economy Seat, want to change that,” said Nunez.

The new cabin configuration would leave aircraft orders unchanged but will change how airlines think of the usage of space in their cabins.  

The seat ultimately is centered on 3 markets:

  1. Low-cost long-haul, Economy-only class operators
  1. Ultra-long haul. Supported by a study done by aviation consultants Linus Benjamin Bauer, Daniel Bloch and Rico Merkert titled Ultra long-haul: An emerging business model accelerated by COVID-19 where they wrote, “in turn, a well-developed premium economy product could be seen as a potential solution” with regard to solving comfort on flights of such a long-distance.
  1. Customer-centric product innovator long-haul carriers.

“We are here to stay and deal with any challenges, but overall, we want to bring the ultimate flying experience to economy-class passengers, as we believe that flying comfortably shouldn’t be a luxury but a necessity.

"Space is always important for comfort, however the space in current economy cabins is not maximized, and with our seat design, we make sure that we make the most out of that space,” said Nunez.

As the industry rediscovers itself, this is the perfect time for such new innovations as airlines are gravitating towards transformation and customer centricity.