Posted by: doorstoautomatic | November 27, 2010

New Thinking, New Zealand

We’ve been meaning to write about this for months here on Doors to Automatic, and seeing as the product launch is coming soon, now’s the time.

Simply put, Air New Zealand have come up with the best innovation in civil aviation cabin design since the lie-flat bed. It’s a lie-flat bed – in economy!

ANZ 'sky couch'

It’s a bloody good idea. Designers at ANZ have flattened out the seats, removed the recline function and replaced the previously useless leg rest with a fold-up support that locks into place, turning three seats into a sofa for two.

The sky couch in operation

There is some small print: The ‘sky couch’ will only be made up of the first 11 window-side rows (not the middle D,E,F,G seats) of economy class and initially only on Air New Zealand’s 777-300ER’s, before being retrofitted to the carrier’s remaining 777 fleet. Their 747’s will not be retrofitted as they’re being phased out.

So not only will you have to be quick to get one, but nabbing a sky couch will cost: You have to buy all three seats.

If you’re a couple with a small child, this isn’t so bad. If you’re just a couple, it makes an appreciable difference to the cost of your tickets, even though the third seat will be sold at half price. Still, that will put the cost of the sky couch at around a grand per person. Not very ‘economy’.

Two other issues may emerge when ANZ make the first flights in April 2011: In turbulence, does the sky couch need to be stowed and seat belts secured in the normal seat? Or will there be the suggested seat belt extensions?

And as anyone who’s ever lucked into 3 seats on an empty long haul flight knows, they’re not long enough for anyone over 5 foot 3. The picture above shows the bloke leaning against the window and bending his knees so as not to have his feet hanging off the end of the seat and taken out by trolleys, passing passengers, etc. And he could be a short-arse, for all we know.  In reality, you’ll be sleeping like this:

sky couch for tall people


Still, these things will be sorted out and the fortunes of the sky couch will be followed very closely by every other airline.

Because it prompts a crucial commercial question: If you provide lie-flat beds in the economy cabin, why would anyone buy a business class seat?  This probably explains why no other airline has done it and underlines how brave a move it is by Air New Zealand. They might make it work because they’re a small airline with a niche destination serving only a few routes: For example from London to Hong Kong or LA before going through to Auckland.

It also puts their own premuim economy product to shame.

ANZ premium economy seats

The seats in this cabin recline a bit, but only one person can lie down at a time, rather than two in the less expensive economy section behind. There is a cool new inflight menu of pizza and hamburgers promised, but is that enough to justify the extra cost against what looks like a less comfortable experience?

ANZ prem ec mock-up

We’ll find out in April. But congratulations must go to Air New Zealand for having the balls to try this. While Lufthansa and other major aviation players have been trying to get bunk beds to work on planes for years, a small, progressive airline has made it happen.

For video and more, check out

Posted by: doorstoautomatic | April 23, 2010

2: Terminal

So, farewell then, Heathrow Terminal 2. Unbeknownst to Doors To Automatic, they’ve been aggressively demolishing LHR’s shittiest terminal for a few months now, but we got a pretty good update on progress (and a very bad camera phone shot of it) from across 09R in Terminal 4.

Rubbish photo of T2 demolition

They’re ripping down that semi-circular bit that joined T2 to T1 in this shot and have already made a pretty good job of taking apart the Queen’s Building and the arrivals/departures hall that was doing the turbine hall thing long before Tate Modern made it trendy. I bet the asbestos removal contractors of West London have never been so busy.

Don’t get me wrong, it needed pulling down, especially the check in area in the basement.

One thing I’ll regret never having seen is an entire basketball team trying to check in downstairs and having to duck so as not to scrape their heads on the 6 foot 6 headroom clearance.

T2 check in at World Cup time

It really was rubbish, that area, yet glorious in the way the BAA stuck all BA’s European carrier rivals in there, just to remind Fritz/Jean/Giovanni exactly whose patch they were on. That made it rather an adventurous terminal to use as a passenger. Stepping into T2, one felt one was already abroad.

New T2 with solar panelled roof

Progress in this case means a new, £1 billion, energy-efficient T2, divided up into T2A, B and C, like T5. Apparently the gates will extend into the old crosswind runway 23, which is a shame, as it will remove forever the possibility of turning 23 back into an active runway for short haul aircraft, solving LHR’s third runway problem at a stroke. It’s not beyond the wit of air traffic controllers to sequence 23 with a newly displaced threshold 27 left and right.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen. Actually, depending on how the election goes, perhaps neither will the third runway.

Posted by: doorstoautomatic | March 20, 2010

Junior Business

A surprise addition to a couple of stands at the Business travel show was a premium economy section. Since the economy went tits up, companies who previously flew their staff business have downgraded to ‘prem-ec’, largely to be seen to be doing something.

As a general rule, if economy costs, say, 500, premium economy will be double that (1000), biz will be double that (2000) and the same again with first (4000). But because everyone is deserting business class, there is some serious discounting going on and one can usually find a biz seat for a premium economy fare.

If the company is buying, that’s largely academic, as they can’t send people business class as a matter of policy, which explains why Virgin, BA, Air France, Air New Zealand, JAL and Qantas have seen a big uptake in their premium economy business.

Virgin had an example of their cabin at the show and it raises a clear question – is this premium economy or junior business?

The names are a bit of a giveaway. BA’s product is called World Traveller Plus – i.e. you’re getting economy plus a bit. But Qantas and Virgin both put the stress on the Premium, and Doors To Automatic were very impressed with what you got in VS Premium Economy.

Dedicated check in, better food and much better seats with more of a ‘junior business’ feel. Virgin confirm that a lot of people being forced down to ‘prem ec’ have been nicely surprised at the changes that have been going on behind that curtain over the last few years. Qantas looks similar:

QF premium economy.

The seat looks a lot like the spacebed in QF biz. Again, marketing Premium Economy in this recession should be about saying ‘look, this isn’t too far away from business class’, rather than ‘look how much better this is than economy’.

In this respect, British Airways are well behind.

Their ‘slightly better than economy’ doesn’t look much different to Y class. Indeed it gets the same meals as economy and is so far removed from their biz product that they could be on different airlines.

Ok, you do get a separate check in and fastrack at LHR, but it’s still very much economy plus, rather than junior business.

It feels very 1990’s. In this economy, where people are more likely to be falling out of biz and into prem-ec rather than splashing out from economy upwards, BA, like in so many areas, have got the wrong end of the wrong stick.

Posted by: doorstoautomatic | March 15, 2010


Blimey, Etihad’s a weird airline. Just back from another trip AUH-LHR, on the A340-600, the second in recent months. Weird in the way they board 45 minutes before departure, strange in the slightly strained state of the staff – Our connecting A320 pilot had a row with a manager over a ‘lack of respect’ before threatening to cancel the flight unless he spoke to the chief pilot in Abu Dhabi. Odd, too, in their eclectic choice of cabin colours and lighting, and strange they make money, with what must be a high cost base.

Etihad 'Pearl' biz class

Still, these fellas are clearly having fun, and for a couple of good reasons that Doors To Automatic can think of. One: Their lie flat beds are the most comfortable we’ve ever slept on. Honestly, they’re incredible. Seatbelt sign off, bed deployed, sleep, wake up at top of descent. Six hours. We didn’t even have a bite to eat. Maybe they’re pumping some sort of gas into there. On that topic, it was nice and cool, probably about 21 degrees, which is much better than the sweatboxes BA make you sleep in just so the crew are ok reading OK! in the galleys.

While we’re on the subject, the EY bed is a little narrower than the BA Club World offering, but it’s much more comfortable, with thicker upholstery and none of the uneven, clunking panels and lumps and bumps that you get on British. You wake up feeling good, not sore.

The other cool thing, and a Doors To Automatic favourite, is a window in the toilet. In times past, Qantas were the only people to have this, and then only in their First lavs, but it’s such fun doing your business with inanimate objects like wings, engines and the coastline of South-East England looking on. Probably best to use the blind, when on the ground.

EY small room with view

The only down side is that the A340’s don’t have central overhead baggage bins, meaning that the ones on the side fill up quickly and there’s never enough room for eveyone’s hand baggage. And they’re not deep enough for standard roll-ons to fit in lenghthways, so they have to go sideways, taking up more room.

And they insist on showing a bizarre Arabic version of ‘You’ve been Framed’ during the descent. A collection of rather nasty tricks played on members of the Beirut/Cairo/Dubai public caught on hidden cameras. Like the airline itself – Bizarre.

Posted by: doorstoautomatic | March 5, 2010

All that glitters is not gold

Paid a quick visit to the Business Travel Show recently, which is usually a waste of time as exhibitors try to get you to pay more for stuff than you normally would. My favourite was Expedia Business Services, who do all your booking for you, for a fee, but use the regular Expedia site like anyone else with no special discounts.

Although the show is good for keeping an eye on the new biz products from the airlines. Doors To Automatic checked out Emirates’ first class product.

Emirates first suite

They call it a suite and it’s pretty similar to the products from Singapore, Qatar and Etihad with the privacy wall on one side. The green light presumably illuminates when the seat is upright for takeoff or landing while the blue light is the call button. Why you’d ever need a call button is beyond me – look at the amount of stuff they put in there.

Inside Suite

Christ on a bike, no wonder people in first are such troughers. Pringles, chocolate bars, biscuits right in front of you and hot and cold running Pepsi and Sprite in the armrest. If it’s there, you’ll eat it, whether you want it or not. Can’t help thinking EK could have put something cooler in there like Connect 4 or a Rubik’s cube. Something to distract the brain.

Then there’s all the gold trim. EVERYTHING is trimmed in gold. The panelling, the huge TV, the lamp, mirror, sidelight, armrest, even the recline buttons. Since the use of real gold in these areas would complicate EK’s A380 weight and balance calculations, you can understand why that’s not an option – but it’s just so fake glittery. Gold is a big thing with the Middle East carriers.. Who knows, maybe someone likes it somewhere.

Of course the demo suite is 1A. There’s nothing sadder than people who get excited by snagging 1A. I hear Jackie Stewart won’t fly in any other seat. BA’s 757’s have a wardrobe where 1A is.. The first seat on the left is 3A. Still, first class is all about status. 1A could sell at a premium. Not a bad idea, Emirates.

Posted by: doorstoautomatic | March 2, 2010

Outside Airside

Just back from Barcelona and the first time through BCN’s new Terminal 1. It is, as they say in Portugal, fucking massive.

BCN T1 from the air

BCN T1 from the air

Not just big in a Shanghai Pudong kind of way, it’s huge – Like KLIA or Bangkok, but without the palm trees. It puts LHR T5 to shame, which is ironic, given that the Spanish own Heathrow, but I suppose Aena had lots of newly reclaimed land to play with that wasn’t an option in London unless they drained and concreted over one of those reservoirs just west of the 09 threshold (not a bad idea for an alternative 3rd runway location).

Anyway, it’s all very clean and tidy inside and clearly the contracted manufacturers of frosted glass will be retiring to the Maldives on the strength of their sale to the Catalan airport, but the really cool thing about BCN T1 – and a true ‘Doors to Automatic’ innovation is the airside outside area.

This is a phenomenal idea. Usually after going airside you can whistle for any fresh air, outside space, or, if at LHR T1, 2 or 3, an outside view. Since the closure of viewing terraces for no good reason over the last 15 years, one is now held in a glass box until snatching a final blast of fresh air on the airbridge, only to be denied once again as you enter the closed loop of the cabin.

Barcelona have built into the terminal design two airside courtyards where you can go and sit on a bench, or walk around, have a smoke (if that’s your thing), just take the air and look through the green glass out to the planes on the apron.

The knee-jerk security concern that says people airside cannot be outside anywhere near the planes that are about to be their homes for the next few hours is still respected, because it’s a courtyard. You are still penned in by four walls, but they’re glass, and it doesn’t feel like being coralled. It feels new, open and fresh – connected with the purpose of the airport. Bravo Barcelona.