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Air New Zealand has had its SkyNest concept in development for the past five years. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Air New Zealand has had its SkyNest concept in development for the past five years. Picture: BLOOMBERG

The world’s first lie-flat pods are coming to an economy class plane section near you.  

Air New Zealand has had its SkyNest concept in development for the past five years and announced on June 28 it’s ready for prime time — in 2024. The seats are fully flat, made up with real mattresses plus cooling pillows and bedding, and located in the back of the plane. But like everything to do with flying today, there’s loads of fine print on this announcement.

First, the seats won’t be included in the price of an economy ticket. SkyNests are a separate product, bunk beds stacked three high and bookable only in four-hour increments — the amount of time the airline has determined it takes to allow guests two sleep cycles (which are typically about 90 minutes), with additional time to wind down and wake up.

Each aircraft being fitted with them will have six of these pods, and cabin attendants will replace the linen and sanitise between each four-hour session.

It’s been 170,000 hours of design, constant evolutions of small and large design developments, tweaks and engineering feats to get to where we are.
Leanne Geraghty

The additional cost of the SkyNest lie-flat seat has yet to be determined, but it will be available to anyone in economy or premium economy. Pricing will be the same regardless of class of ticket, though Air New Zealand hasn’t yet decided whether it will be fixed or dynamic based on demand or timing within the flight.

“It’s been 170,000 hours of design, constant evolutions of small and large design developments, tweaks and engineering feats to get to where we are,” says Leanne Geraghty, the airline’s chief customer and sales officer, who says that the final product reflected plenty of customer feedback.

“They weren’t shy to tell us what the pain points were, what worked well and where we could improve,” she explains. The next phase of customer research, she adds, will revolve around what people are willing to pay for it.

Air New Zealand already has a lie-flat option in economy, called the SkyCouch. It allows flyers to extend specially designed footrests from all three seats in an economy row, to effectively widen those seats and turn the section into a makeshift bed. It’s extremely popular with families, who can lay horizontally across a row they’ve booked together.

The option can be booked for a single traveller, too; booking three economy seats from either New York or Chicago to Auckland costs about $3,000, compared with about $5,000 for a seat in business class.

In contrast to the SkyCouch, the SkyNest won’t have pesky gaps and raised armrests between seats — plus the mattress will be thicker, because it’s purpose-built to serve as a bed.

The airline hasn’t decided yet whether you can book multiple sessions back to back, but chances are that demand won’t allow for it. On current configurations of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9s, there are 248 seats in the premium economy and economy cabins, so nearly that many passengers would be vying for the 18 available slots. (Based on the dimensions — the beds are 2m long — it’s likely the six bunks would replace 12 or so seats.)

Whereas travellers who happen to have a row to themselves are welcome to use the SkyCouch at no extra cost, Geraghty says SkyNests won’t be made available on a complimentary basis if they’re otherwise going unused. Each bed is made for just one person with no weight limit, and unlike a SkyCouch, a parent won’t be able to share a bed with their child. 

SkyNests will go into service in 2024 on aircraft serving Air New Zealand’s ultralong-haul nonstop routes, such as Chicago or New York to Auckland. The direct New York routes, starting in September, will be among the world’s longest flights, taking 17 hours, 30 minutes. The 15-hour flights from Chicago will begin in October.

It’s all part of a bid to stoke interest in New Zealand as a destination. The country held out on opening its international borders for longer than almost any other and is targeting more affluent and conscientious consumers as it rethinks its reliance on mass tourism. Restoring convenient and reliable access to flights is one of the country’s largest challenges in making that happen.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this please visit Bloomberg.com.

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