Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Lie Flat & Cuddle with Air New Zealand's Skycouch

Air New Zealand's new 'Skycouch' seats have attracted a lot of international interest, but in all honesty failed to live up to their pre-launch hype.

Dubbed 'cuddle class', the new skycouch does offer lie-flat or curled-up seating for a couple of passengers, provided they buy a row of 3 seats.

There will be 11 rows of skycouch seats, with the arm rests fully retracting, and foot rests coming up to meet the seats in front and create a 1.75 metre-long couch. A thin mattress fits over the top.

Speculation has been going on for the last 6 months or more about how Air New Zealand's design team was going to "revolutionise" economy (coach) class for passengers.

Suggestions have included seats which reclined back to an almost lie-flat position, staggered seating, and lie-flat stackable bunk beds along the sides of the aircraft.

The reality proved somewhat less revolutionary, although they are still the world's first lie-flat seats in economy or coach class, and will suit couples travelling long-haul, and those with a small child.

A team of designers have been working on the project for three years. Air NZ's Chief Executive Rob Fyfe says the challenge he gave was to "have passengers able to lie down in economy, but I don't want the seat to take up any more space and I don't want people to have to pay any more for it."

I guess the catch of two passengers also having to buy the middle seat (albeit at half price) to get a lie down means that goal wasn't quite achieved.

However, Air New Zealand is predicting strong growth in the Premium Economy section of the market, the airline's also talking up a sideline licensing deal of the new seating designs with Boeing (to on-sell to international airlines).

Interestingly, investors seemed unimpressed with Air NZ's seating revamp, with shares slipping slightly on launch day.

And it will be interesting to see how long the "2 seats at standard price + 1 at half price" skycouch deal lasts. Presumably giving away 22 seats at half the going economy rate is fine while capacity is down, but that policy may come into question once planes start filling up again or the seats "fly out the door" as the airline hopes.

The new skycouch option launches in November, when Air New Zealand's new 340-seater Boeing 777-300 comes into service, between Auckland and Los Angeles. The airline plans to refit all its long haul aircraft in the skycouch configuration by 2012.

There will also be changes for all other flying classes on Air New Zealand. Regular economy/coach class will get bigger video screens for the personal entertainment system, plus iPod ports (yay!), and a narrow head cushion that attaches to the seat.

New 'Spaceseats' in Premium Economy class will be enclosed within a hard shell 'cocoon', meaning reclining your seat doesn't impede on the space of the person behind you as normally happens now in Economy cabins.

A herring-bone layout with seats angling either inwards of outwards will also allow Premium Economy passengers to choose to have more personal space, or to interact with another traveller, including the ability to share meals.

There will be new contoured seats in Business Premier, with a thicker mattress and better seat lighting.

New oven technology will allow flight attendants to prepare fresh food 'on demand' for passengers... Steaks for Business travellers, Pizzas for Premium Economy, and Toasted Sandwiches in Economy (ordered via the onboard entertainment system).

However, I'm not sure about the planned new colour scheme. "A luxurious blend of chalk and deep ink colours", economy seats are black with a white back, and premium economy seats are chalk-coloured leather.

It all sounds nice and classy, but it also sounds like the kind of colours that would get dirty and damaged pretty easily.

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  1. libertyscott Says:

    Worth noting that in economy, the seats are nearly an inch narrower than the ones on the current 777s, and there is one inch less legroom compared to the 747s (though one inch more than the 777s).

    3-4-3 seating in economy compared to 3-3-3 on the current 777s - same cabin width, but some seat width and aisle width sacrificed to cram them in.

  2. Dave Gee Says:

    Thanks, no I didn't know about those seating changes. Not good news, not much personal sideways space as it is now, and an inch less legroom makes a big difference to tall people on Air NZ's long flights to the US/UK.