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 http://www.futuretakingflight.com

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