Exploring Air New Zealand’s New Long Haul Cabin with Beds in Coach

It had been hinted about around the local media here in New Zealand for the last few days, but now its official. If you fly in Lying Down on the Sky Couchcoach on Air New Zealand, you’ll be able to lie down, well, some of you will. I was at the big reveal of the new interior yesterday, and I liked what I saw.

All three cabins are getting a makeover, though the business cabin is a much more minor change than the rest. The process has taken them more than 3 years, and they hired famed design firm IDEO to work with them along with several local structural design firms. (Read more about the process on BNET.) The result is what CEO Rob Fyfe required – a new, superior product that takes up no more space than the old product and costs the traveler the same amount for a seat. They’ve done just that in coach.

The best way to have a look is to watch this 8 minute video. Ed Sims, Group General Manager of the International Airline for Air New Zealand, walked me through each cabin talking about what’s changing. Take a look and then let’s talk below.

They’ve been saying this product is revolutionary; is it? To some extent, yes. Clearly the business class isn’t revolutionary, but the other two cabins are quite innovative to say the least. I guess the best way to answer this is . . . are there any other economy cabins in the world that allow you to lie down? Unless you’re on an empty flight, the answer is no. Here’s what they’re doing.

Economy Class
When the new economy class rolls out on the 777, you might be dismayed to see that it’s going to be in a 3-4-3 configuration. That’s one more across than in the standard configuration, but many airlines have gone toward that model. The width will now be around 17.2 inches, about what you’ll find on a standard 737, but less than that you’ll get on say, United’s 777s.

Of course, while United may give you more width, Air NZ gives you a couple inches more legroom. The 777-300 will have mostly 33 inch pitch Attached Pillow in Coachthroughout, and I found it to be quite comfortable, even if it is 1 inch less than what you get on the 747s today.

There will be 246 coach seats on the plane, and they’ll all have individual power outlets, USB ports to watch your own content on their entertainment system, a screen that is 2 inches larger than the current large screen, and foot nets to rest your feet. Personally, I don’t like foot nets, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.

While many airlines have gone toward the winged headrests in coach, Air NZ is taking it one step further. They’re now attaching pillows to the winged headrest to make for a really comfortable place to put your head.

Of those seats, 66 on the sides of the first 11 rows of coach will be part of the new SkyCouch offering. If you’re an individual, the only difference is that instead of a foot net, there are full leg rests. If you want to sit in these seats, you’ll be able to pay about US$150 more, but that’s not the real value.

The value comes when you use Modeling How the SkyCouch Worksthe three seats together to turn into a bed. The seats will already be designed to be flush with each other so you can lie down. The armrests will also go all the way up. Meanwhile, the legrests will all come up to fill in the area where your legs usually go to create a big bed. Two short people can cuddle up while taller people would need to prop their heads up against the wall to avoid getting run over by carts.

Since Air NZ serves a high percentage of leisure traffic, these seats are meant for couples and families. If a couple books the two seats, they’ll be able to buy the third for half the price to make a more affordable option for lying down than you’ll find in premium cabins. If you have a family of three, you can pay $150 more for everyone to share the area together. If your kid can lie down, your flight will be much better.

Premium Economy
This is a very compelling option. While the current premium economy isn’t much of an upgrade, these are real premium seats that should be considered more like “business lite.” The configuration is 2-2-2, but the center is different from the sides. The Premium Economy Inner Space with Ottocenter seats, which they’re calling inner space, face in toward each other, and the large armrests go up. When they do, you can change your position to face each other and even have a meal. The tray table comes down at an angle so you can put your food on the armrest and a laptop on your table. Room for everything.

There are no legrests in this cabin but rather Otto the bean bag. Seriously. Otto can be moved around to be used as a legrest no matter which way you’re sitting. The point of these seats is to allow you to move around and fidget as much as you’d like and have plenty of comfortable positions available. Very well done.

The outside seats both angle toward the window, so they’re meant more for the individual traveler. You can still talk to each other if you’re a couple, but these really also give you privacy if you’re not. This cabin really seems to be all about flexibility and choice.

Business
Other than the shiny new white leather (which they really think won’t get scuffed up, uh huh), not a ton is changing here. The seat is the same, though the screen will also grow a couple inches. The big change is the mattress. Right now, some passengers complain Business Class After I Messed It Upthat the mattress is too hard, so they’re adding an inch or so of new padding to soften it up. They’re also including a mattress pad that adds additional padding and a new duvet. I tried it; it’s quite nice.

Other than that, there will be changes to the meal service. They’re actually installing ovens on the plane to cook the food instead of simply reheat it. They’re looking toward a menu of comfort food since that’s what people seem to really like. In the premium cabins, this will be more of a “bistro” style of offering, but it goes back to coach as well. They showed off a mammoth burger for coach that looked delicious. Oh, and like Virgin America, you’ll be able to order food and drink when you’d like from your seatback entertainment system.

Overall, I think they’ve done a really nice job here. If you’re a family or a couple, this is really the first affordable flat bed option that I’ve seen in the skies. Or if you just want to fidget, the premium economy was really impressive.

These seats will first roll out on NZ 5/6 between LA and Auckland beginning before the end of the year. In April, it will shift to NZ 1/2 and go Auckland – LA – London. Eventually, it will be on every long haul flight. The 747s will be retired and the 777-200s will be refitted with this interior.

[See all my photos of the new Air New Zealand cabin here]

41 Responses to Exploring Air New Zealand’s New Long Haul Cabin with Beds in Coach

  1. Graham says:

    Thanks for the report and the video!

    Though its stories like this that make me curse my parents for making me 6’4″. Maybe I’ll have to shell out for Premium Economy. How far back do those seats recline? Farther than coach?

    • Hardly any recline, and, at your height, realistically none, as you eat into your own leg room by reclining. I doubt you could actually fit into the premium economy “unspace” seats as the pitch is ridiculously close.

  2. Brian Lusk says:

    There’s nothing “cranky” about the Cranky Flyer stretched out on those seats.

  3. kt74 says:

    Wow! I mean, really, wow! That is awesome! …and most definitely innovative!

    I think the real winner here has to be premium economy, where NZ currently has a meh/so-so product, redeemed by business class-style food/drink/toilets for what was little better than an E+ seat on UA, but at a significant (and unjustified?) premium – Cranky, you would be nuts to downgrade to this on your way home! This new seat seems really well thought out, practical, yet space saving enough to be economic – this would work well with other airlines if the PE concept continues to catch on

    Economy is cool, but I still wonder how popular the Skycouch will be in practice. The bed is only 51 inches long after all, and it’s sort of either designed for young families or two *very* intimate (and very short) people. Maybe they’ve missed a trick not making the 4-seat central section into Skycouches – two taller (and not so intimate) people could then do the head to toe thing… [insert joke about merits of spooning vs 69s here...]

    As for Business, while the seat is essentially the same, I read somewhere that it is sufficiently different that ANZ no longer has to pay royalties to licence its current design from Virgin – wonder what makes it so different?

  4. Sofia says:

    Wohoo!! This is what we’ve been waiting for, looks awesome!!!!!! maybe this way you’ll finally be free from the worst travel nightmare that always seems to come true – having bored kids in the seat behind yours kicking their feet in your back the whole way…

  5. Simon says:

    Could you check my math[s] on the Sky couch thing?

    Assume (based on a look for a random date next August) a $850 fare from LAX to AKL in Y. So two people are $1700
    To get the skycouch: each person pays $850, plus $150 each, plus $425 (half price) + $150 for the middle seat? So two people are $2575. That’s a 50% premium…

    I just wonder what the difference in price between economy and premium economy will be. It will provide big competition on LON-LAX and LON-HKG.

    kt74 wrote:

    I think the real winner here has to be premium economy, where NZ currently has a meh/so-so product, redeemed by business class-style food/drink/toilets for what was little better than an E+ seat on UA, but at a significant (and unjustified?) premium

    I chose Air NZ Y+ on London – Hong Kong recently, over VS and BA, partly because of price. I admit there was a Y+ fare sale at the time time but the extra food and drink, plus that little bit of extra space, meant it was definitely worth it.

  6. Ron says:

    When we fly as a family, we often try to have one person sleep on the floor — it’s not super comfortable, but better than the alternatives. Unfortunately many flight attendants frown on this and make us get up. Any idea why?

    And is there enough space to fit a person (a small one) on the floor under the skycouch? This would make great sense — shove one child underneath, sleep more comfortably with another child on top.

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  8. Oliver says:

    Very cool. Using Simon’s math, I’d probably be willing to pay that premium for the couch. The premium economy seats look very nice, too.

    > Of course, while United may give you more width, Air NZ gives you
    > a couple inches more legroom. The 777-300 will have mostly
    > 33 inch pitch throughout

    You seem to be ignoring the 34-36 inches of leg room UA gives you in the E+ cabin. Also, it seems that UA’s seats might get narrower in their refit when/if then switch from 2-5-2 to 3-4-3 configuration.

  9. Keith says:

    Brett, I saw you on the news this morning here in LA about this…

    Certianly is an innovative idea, but practical?? Time will tell. Seems like if you are fortunate enough to have a row to yourself it would be totally awesome. If you and your spouse/partner/whoever is in the same row with you along with an empty middle seat, that would be awesome too. But if I understand correctly, the loads on NZ are usually high so the chances of having a row or the middle seat open are slim. I bet only a small percentage of these would be used on an average flight, especially for cheap folks, like myself..

    What it would boil down to is cost to the airline. If these seats cost the same or less as normal seats, and weigh the same or less, ANZ will most likely move forward with the retrofit. If the cost outweighs the benefit, then your chances of sleeping horizontally are going bye bye…

  10. Luke says:

    Great article and video!

    I’m kind of surprised about the economy ‘bed’ from a safety standpoint. Unless I missed something, this will encourage passengers to sleep without a seatbelt. Even when the seatbelt sign is off, it’s a good idea to keep belted up throughout the flight because of the possibility of sudden clear air turbulence.

    Also, when the seatbelt sign gets turned on, isn’t this going to be a head-ache for flight attendants when they have to go through the aircraft and wake people up to get them to sit back up and fasten their seatbelts?

  11. Steven says:

    Ron wrote:

    When we fly as a family, we often try to have one person sleep on the floor — it’s not super comfortable, but better than the alternatives. Unfortunately many flight attendants frown on this and make us get up. Any idea why?

    It is for safety and it simply isn’t allowed to let you sleep on the floor

    Oliver wrote:

    You seem to be ignoring the 34-36 inches of leg room UA gives you in the E+ cabin

    I think that we are talking E and E+ there, not really comparable

  12. Alex says:

    Seems like a good move by NZ to me. They are the pioneers when it comes to the Skycouch. If it proves very popular its surely not going to be that hard to roll it back to the rest of the economy cabin. If its a flop then they can still sell the seats like normal.

    Cranky, I guess the key question here is how the footrests move into the bed position. Are they unlocked with a key or can a passenger do it themselves?

    I don’t see many situations where you’d end up with 3 skycouch seats to yourself, I presume these will be the last to be filled to non-skycouch customers. Also it doesn’t seem like the price will be competitive for solo travellers. However for a travelling family the $150 to reserve the skycouch looks like great value.

  13. james says:

    I was on a half empty UAL ORD-DEN 6am flight. I moved to an empty row to catch some sleep, (seatbelt around my mid-section.)

    After a bathroom break a nice FA showed me how to fashion a headrest and pillow by removing the seat cushion from another empty row and angling it up against the wall. (Where my head was laying on my jacket, over the armrest.)

    I thanked her, but asked her if FAs on other flights might raise eyebrows at passengers scattering about the seat cushions. She said FAs do it all the time. And it was the best “coach” sleep I’ve had.

    Good to know for future – but I’ll definetly ask…

  14. @Simon, I think your maths is out.

    The extra $150 is when 3 people want to book a sky couch. For a couple the extra is 50% (in total, not each person). So in your example $850 + $850 + $425 equals $2125. On a per person basis it is 25% extra, assuming 50% fare is 50% of the fare you paid and not set on full fare (for example).

    Premium economy on Air NZ is already priced well above economy fares. It can only go up with the new product given there are less seats in the same space.

  15. Miniliq says:

    Brett — you had me all excited until the end when I realized none of this will happen in time for my Feb. 19 NZ5Y booking. I’ve picked an aisle exit row for the extra legroom. Anyway I expect that none of these bed conversions will apply to exit rows for safety reasons.

  16. Excellent overview Cranky..It is excellent product, the couch is problematic in the fact that you would have to buy 2/half seats to use it, I doubt the wife would want to be that close!…so if one sleeps then the other is going to have to squeeze, I think the best deal is for sleeping children and one adult…or pray for a low passenger count.
    Premium Economy is certainly an excellent product, and Qantas will breath in sharply then run to outfitters to match it, this will be a real winner for ANZ and I like the slight twist to see clearly out of the window in the window seats, plus that space for work and eating, outstanding…and if you and the wife are not seeing eye to eye then you can ignore each other…I am also thankful that finally the product in the back of the plane is getting some serious attention…and about time.
    I wish ANZ well, they deserve the business.

  17. Jeff says:

    What a timely article. I was planning to fly to NZ in March 2010 and utilize the Brett’s services.

  18. Ron says:

    Steven wrote:

    It is for safety and it simply isn’t allowed to let you sleep on the floor

    Oh, safety, I should have guessed. Would it be possible to elaborate on what exactly is unsafe about a person lying down on the floor? I don’t think it would be turbulence, after all there’s less room for you to fly up than when lying unbuckled on a row of seats.

  19. NM says:

    @ Ron:

    I’d hate to hit my head on an anchor or seat (and/or get kicked in the face) during a sudden descent. I would think turbulence actually has a lot to do with it.

  20. MeanMeosh says:

    The Skycouch looks cool, but I have to wonder – isn’t it going to be a PITA to sell from the airline’s standpoint? Would ANZ essentially have to “hold” the seats in their system for people buying 2 (or 2 plus child) seats together? What happens if they don’t sell – will they be released into regular inventory at some point? I’d shudder at the thought of getting assigned a seat in one of those things and having to get cuddly with a stranger…

  21. LongTimeObserver says:

    YGBSM.

    A couple (for how much longer after this experience?) pays 1.25 times the economy fare to be folded and spindled while risking ankle amputation by dodge’em bumper carts due to a too-short seat span?

    Say it ain’t so!

  22. andrew says:

    the reason why u can’t have children sleeping on the floor has mainly 3 reasons.
    Firstly, NZ CAA (civil aviation authority) and in conjunction with Air Nz comforming to CAA rules and regs, is that there is no seat belt there. So ,if the seat belt sign comes on, can u belt them up down there?…no.
    Secondly, its a Heath and safety issue. Think of all the previous flights where people have either dropped food, drink, or other things i won’t mention! and Thirdly, its an Air nz rule..terms and condition of travel, that noone is allowed to sleep on the floor. hope that answers your question

  23. Simon says:

    Steven wrote:

    Ron wrote:
    When we fly as a family, we often try to have one person sleep on the floor — it’s not super comfortable, but better than the alternatives. Unfortunately many flight attendants frown on this and make us get up. Any idea why?
    It is for safety and it simply isn’t allowed to let you sleep on the floor

    It used to be… as a young child in the eighties on the old DL tristars ATL-LGW, I’d be put on the floor after eating and would sleep through pretty much all the way until it was seatbelts on for descent time. I remember always being cross that I’d missed breakfast…

    @TheGlobalTraveller So you’re saying that if you buy two seats and get the middle one at half price, you then don’t pay the $150? And if there’s three of you then in effect you just pay $50 extra each?

  24. CF says:

    Sorry it took me awhile to respond here – I’ve been running around Auckland since I got here.

    Graham wrote:

    Maybe I’ll have to shell out for Premium Economy. How far back do those seats recline? Farther than coach?

    These seats have the shell on the back, so they recline into themselves and push forward. It felt perfectly comfortable to me. While the recline should be more than coach, it’s not really a ton more.

    kt74 wrote:

    Maybe they’ve missed a trick not making the 4-seat central section into Skycouches

    I asked about that – they seem to think that the key is having the sidewalls for people to lean on. Maybe the math just didn’t work in the middle. Not sure exactlly.

    kt74 wrote:

    As for Business, while the seat is essentially the same, I read somewhere that it is sufficiently different that ANZ no longer has to pay royalties to licence its current design from Virgin – wonder what makes it so different?

    That was actually an incorrect report. I double checked and they do continue to pay the license.

    Oliver wrote:

    You seem to be ignoring the 34-36 inches of leg room UA gives you in the E+ cabin. Also, it seems that UA’s seats might get narrower in their refit when/if then switch from 2-5-2 to 3-4-3 configuration.

    Not ignoring – that’s a different product. Seat pitch in premium econ on ANZ is worthless since you’re angled. It doesn’t tell you much. If UA goes to 3-4-3, then they’ll have to go narrower. I was just trying to show a comparison.

    Luke wrote:

    Unless I missed something, this will encourage passengers to sleep without a seatbelt.

    They tell me that the middle seat belt will be able to be used to loop around anyone who is sleeping. That is a safety thing, and you will absolutely be able to be belted.

    Alex wrote:

    Cranky, I guess the key question here is how the footrests move into the bed position. Are they unlocked with a key or can a passenger do it themselves?

    Passengers do it themselves. If you’re just a single person, the foot rest will come up halfway like a normal rest would.

    MeanMeosh wrote:

    The Skycouch looks cool, but I have to wonder – isn’t it going to be a PITA to sell from the airline’s standpoint?

    I don’t know that they’ve completely worked through all the reservation system issues, but this is really going to be treated like a separate class of service, I think.

  25. CF says:

    Simon wrote:

    @TheGlobalTraveller So you’re saying that if you buy two seats and get the middle one at half price, you then don’t pay the $150? And if there’s three of you then in effect you just pay $50 extra each?

    That is correct. That’s what they’re saying right now. We’ll see what happens when it actually goes on sale.

  26. Ken Buzza says:

    @ Ron:
    I think you may be a bit dumb Ron. Having flown with Qantas for 25yrs, I have seen cases of people in the centre section of the aircraft with their heads embedded in the overhead panelling, this being caused by severe clear air turbulence, not able to be seen on pilots radar. Do yourself a favour at least belt the kids in.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. Miles says:

    Losing an inch of pitch may be fine for shorter persons, but it’s not any fun for us taller guys.

    “The 777-300 will have mostly 33 inch pitch Attached Pillow in Coach throughout, and I found it to be quite comfortable, even if it is 1 inch less than what you get on the 747s today.”

  28. Chris says:

    @ Graham:

    6′ 4″? Ha! try 6′ 7″!

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  30. Jenn says:

    @ Ron:

    I remember trying to sleep on the floor a long time ago too, kind of with heads going on the seat instead. It was fine back then, but I think airlines (and crew) have become more aware of the safety concerns of doing this.

    If there is turbulence mid-flight this could lead to some really nasty injuries. Perhaps also for security, the crew should be able to see all the passengers in the cabin.

    I’d say safety was the number one issue with this.

  31. Ron says:

    @ andrew: Thanks for clarifying. It looks to me like the arguments against sleeping on the floor are not that strong.

    So ,if the seat belt sign comes on, can u belt them up down there?…no.

    That’s right, but when the sign comes on flight attendants pass through the cabin and make sure everyone is belted, right? And if you’re asleep without a belt they wake you up. So they can wake you up from the floor and send you back into your seat. No need to deny you a more comfortable position for those long hours when the seatbelt sign is off.

    Secondly, its a Heath and safety issue. Think of all the previous flights where people have either dropped food, drink, or other things i won’t mention!

    I wouldn’t think this is a big deal. They do clean the plane, don’t they? What if people dropped stuff on their seats? Or if the toddler sitting in your seat on the previous flight peed his pants? The floor might be a bit less clean than your seat, but the difference is not so big that I’d not allow a person to put their head down there. Besides, your head is hopefully on a clean pillow.

    and Thirdly, its an Air nz rule..terms and condition of travel, that noone is allowed to sleep on the floor. hope that answers your question

    This just says the rule exists, it doesn’t provide justification. I do think this may be a case of a rule that’s not very well thought through. Yes, it’s safer to have your belt on at all times, but they don’t force you to have it on because there is a tradeoff between safety and comfort. It seems to me that if you’re wedged between the rows on the floor, you’d be less likely to hit the overhead paneling (as someone above said) than if you’re unbelted on your seat, or walking up and down the aisles.

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  33. CF says:

    Miles wrote:

    Losing an inch of pitch may be fine for shorter persons, but it’s not any fun for us taller guys.

    I’m not entirely clear what the loss of an inch does to legroom. The seat may be thinner or it may be constructed in a way that doesn’t take it into account. It’s not entirely clear what happens here.

  34. Jeff wrote:

    What a timely article. I was planning to fly to NZ in March 2010 and utilize the Brett’s services.

    The Air NZ new longhaul product won’t be flying until December 2010.

    Simon wrote:

    Steven wrote:
    @TheGlobalTraveller So you’re saying that if you buy two seats and get the middle one at half price, you then don’t pay the $150? And if there’s three of you then in effect you just pay $50 extra each?

    Yes. Unlike CF I think this surcharge won’t change much since it is all bonus money (same number of seats are sold). Whereas for a couple the 25% (each) skycouch surcharge may well go up once Air NZ has assessed real demand (since they sell one less seat).

    @kt74 – having skycouch in the middle section complicates inventory and revenue management. For starters they’d need a different (significantly higher) price for the longer skycouch to make up for loss of an extra seat. Would there be enough passengers buying if it costs a lot more? Perhaps not if it gets close to premium economy fares.

    @CF and @Miles – Air NZ already has fairly thin seats so I think it will mean 1″ less room for the legs, compared to 747 and 1″ more compared to 777. While 1″ is noticeable, many people don’t realise there is actually 2″ variation in pitch through the cabin already due to placement of bulkheads and emergency exits.

  35. Baz says:

    The centre seats face outwards not inwards. They also enable your travel companion to lie flat in a curved position, so long as you don’t mind their feet or head (oooooo eeerrrr) on your lap.

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