A San Francisco startup is pioneering some socially distanced solutions to create "sleep seats" for economy class on planes. Zephyr Aerospace recently debuted an airline seat and bed combo for premium economy passengers.

Lie-flat seating is well known to business and first-class travelers — an indulgence coveted and purchased for its myriad perks. Now, a fresh innovation could bring the same concept to economy plus, and it couldn't have come at a more important time. Travelers in the economy cabin may soon be able to sit, lie flat, and sleep in the same seat while maintaining social distancing rules.

Zephyr is a brand-new airline seating concept that transforms the seats in premium economy class on wide-body aircraft into lie-flat beds. The idea, still in the concept phase, seeks to enhance the in-flight experience as airlines encourage people to travel again.

The lie-flat "double-decker" seating concept offers a comfortable bed with all-aisle access in a 2-4-2 configuration — however, it manages to maintain the density of existing premium economy setups on 90% of airlines worldwide. It is easily the most cost-effective way to sleep on long-distance commercial flights.

Zephyr's seat and bed combo provide back of the plane travelers with the same privacy as business class travelers. The non-mechanical sleep seats have limited movable fixtures and are made with high standard lightweight composite materials, reducing direct maintenance costs for airlines. A telescopic ladder provides quick and easy access to the upper area and can be removed after boarding.

A drop-down footwell cover increases personal space in each seat, which allows for multiple lie-flat positions. There's even space for small children and families to lie next to each other (dependent on an airline's social distancing rules). Airlines can retrofit these sleep seats between a 38- to 42-inch seat pitch, according to brand preferences and industry standards, for an increase ancillary revenue.

Each seat will be priced at $30-40,000/unit, which the company says is 60% less than the average cost of a business class seat and 80% lighter (due to advanced composites and limited moving pieces).

Zephyr is currently in development and working with crowdfunding sources to move the project forward. The company claims to be in direct discussions with Airbus and Boeing as well as such airlines as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Lufthansa, Delta, Air New Zealand and Japan Airlines.