Air New Zealand’s recent announcement that it could introduce lie-flat bunk beds in Economy class went viral. Social media exploded and the story has been regurgitated by news outlets all over the world. Some journalists have even predicted that the Air New Zealand Skynest will spell the end of Business class.
To be clear, that’s an utterly ridiculous claim to make on the back of an airline simply announcing a prototype. Even if this concept does become a reality, it is a completely different product to Business class with a different target demographic.
And even if this was as good as Business Class, there will only be six “pods” available on selected Air New Zealand long-haul aircraft, meaning passengers will most likely only have access to them for a few hours per flight. The pods are not practical for working, nor eating in, and are simply not an alternative to Business class – nor Air NZ Premium Economy, for that matter. Rather, they’re an upgrade to the Economy Class experience.
It’s also unlikely that the product will appear on many other airlines anytime soon because Air New Zealand has applied for a patent. Other airlines would have an opportunity to licence the product from Air New Zealand in the future, as is the case with the Skycouch. But of the couple of airlines that have licensed the Skycouch, China Airlines has already removed the product from all of its aircraft and Azul only installed it on a small handful of planes to begin with.
That hardly spells the end of Business Class around the world. Nonetheless, it would be an innovative and very welcome upgrade to the Air New Zealand Economy Class experience!
What is the Air New Zealand Skynest?
The Air New Zealand Skynest will be located within the Economy cabin, most likely at the rear of the aircraft. The Skynest will contain two triple bunkbeds, creating a total of six “sleeping pods” which are at least two metres long and 58cm wide. That’s just as long as most lie-flat Business class seats, but a bit narrower than a typical seat up the front of the plane.
Each sleeping pod will come with a pillow, blanket, sheets and privacy curtains, and earplugs will be provided.
Air New Zealand says that the product aims to address three of the biggest pain points for long-haul Economy class passengers, by helping travellers to “find a quiet mind”, relax their bodies and creating the right environment to get some rest.
The Economy Skynest sleeping pods are not a separate class of travel. Rather, Economy class passengers will be able to book time in one of the pods in addition to their Economy class ticket.
How is Skynest different to the Air New Zealand Skycouch?
Air New Zealand already offers the innovate Skycouch product on its Boeing 787 and Boeing 777 long-haul aircraft. The Skycouch allows passengers to book a block of three Economy seats which are converted into a quasi-bed, allowing travellers to lie down and stretch out. This product is suitable for 1 or 2 passengers, and is generally priced similarly to the cost of two-and-a-half Economy class seats.
The Skynest would be quite different to the Skycouch because it’s more private and longer – creating a more sleep-conducive environment. The Economy Skynest is also different because it would be available as an extra service, in addition to an Economy seat. Access would be available for a fixed time-block, rather than the entire flight.
Will the Air New Zealand Skynest ever become a reality?
It’s not uncommon for an airline – or an aircraft seat designer – to announce a prototype that attracts maximum media hype but never becomes a reality.
Air New Zealand itself says that it has now applied for patents and trademarks, and will make a decision about whether to go ahead with installing the Skynest on its aircraft at the end of this year – after the launch of its new Auckland-New York route.
Given Air New Zealand’s track record of innovation, as seen with the Skycouch, there is a good chance that this product will be available on Air New Zealand long-haul flights a few years from now. But there are still many design and commercial hurdles that would need to be overcome first.
Air New Zealand says that it’s still refining the product in order to get it certified. This process is much more complicated than it was for the Skycouch.
“The idea itself is not unique and is used in many forms of transport around the world. However, to install and put it on an aircraft, and operationalise it and commercialise it, is extremely difficult and challenging,” Air New Zealand Head of Aircraft Programmes Kerry Reeves said.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Air New Zealand Economy Skynest