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.

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]

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