Air New Zealand Wins the Award for Best Single Achievement in the Passenger’s Experience

Greetings from Seattle. It’s a busy week here at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) 2011 Expo. I’ll be writing about several things over the next couple weeks, but I wanted to start with the award which I helped judge. This year, Air New Zealand won the award for the Best Single Achievement in the Passenger’s Experience with the intro of the SkyCouch.

Lying Down on the Sky Couch

So why did we pick Air New Zealand? I can’t speak for all the judges, but I do like to give a little more rationale on why I personally picked Air New Zealand as the winner.

This award honestly was a little tricky. APEX used to be the WAEA and focused on inflight entertainment. Now with the broader focus on passenger experience, there was a much bigger pool of candidates. By the time we got to judge, it had been narrowed down to five finalists.

  • Air New Zealand for the SkyCouch
  • Delta for @DeltaAssist on Twitter
  • FlyDubai for the Lumexis inflight entertainment system
  • Virgin America for paid upgrades while on the aircraft
  • Virgin Atlantic for its new Jam inflight entertainment system

We judged on four categories – Innovation, Sustainability, Benefit to the Passenger, and Benefit to the Airline Industry. These guys were all deserving of being in the finals, but for me, the toughest choice was between Air New Zealand and Delta.

For those who don’t know, the SkyCouch was introduced late last year when Air New Zealand decided to offer 3 coach seats on the side of the cabin that can be turned into a flat bed-like space. It’s not a great bed for people to stretch out (that’s was biz class is for), but it’s great for families, especially with small kids. It was also accompanied by new meal options and inflight entertainment, much with kids in mind.

@DeltaAssist is Delta’s creation of a Twitter channel that allows it to provide real time customer service and then communicate throughout the organization.

Both of these are excellent, so how did I end up going with Air New Zealand?

Really all the finalists were sustainable, so that wasn’t an issue this late in the judging process. It was the other three categories required some serious and thoughtful deliberation. We spent quite a bit of time working through this – it was actually a lot of fun.

Benefit to the Passenger
@DeltaAssist provides a new way to get quick customer service responses, so that’s a big benefit. Right now, I imagine it’s a lot of tech-savvy 20 and 30 somethings, but it’s bound to grow beyond that as people learn how useful it can be when they need help.

On Air New Zealand, coach passengers now have a way to get more comfortable on long haul flights, but it’s not just the seat. It’s the way that the airline has focused on creating new food options for adults and children. It’s the entirely new kids experience with inflight entertainment as well. It’s the whole package.

The result is happier coach passengers for a variety of reasons. It’s adults who can get somewhat more comfortable than in a normal coach seat. It’s also kids who might actually sleep on an airplane. Happy kids mean happy parents, and that also means other passengers are happy on the airplane if kids aren’t screaming.

This also should spur further innovation in the back of the bus, and that could make this an even bigger achievement. According to Air New Zealand, the SkyCouch has been a real success commercially. The airline can now show that there is a way to improve the passenger experience and make money doing it in coach. Others have noticed and that can only be good for passengers.

Benefit to the Airline Industry
Air New Zealand appears to have found a way to increase revenue in coach by providing a unique product. That’s a big win in an industry that often looks at coach like it’s a commodity. It’s easy to come up with ideas, but it’s not easy to see them to fruition and then actually make them a success.

@DeltaAssist, meanwhile, can help increase productivity of customer service reps while providing a strong brand benefit. It also can help fix travel problems before they become big problems. It’s also a big win.

So for me it really came down to innovation as the differentiator. What Delta is doing is excellent and it is innovative for sure, but on the innovation scale, the SkyCouch is off the charts. It is a brand new, incredibly creative idea that required a great deal of risk-taking. And it paid off.

The willingness of Air New Zealand to put money and effort into developing something like this is impressive. It has improved the passenger experience for Air New Zealand’s customers, and it might just provide the catalyst airlines around the world need to put more resources into the coach cabin.

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Claire FieldCFRobin JohnsonNicholas BarnardSanjeev M Recent comment authors
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Jason H
Jason H

I have to agree with you here Brett. I haven’t experienced the Air New Zealand product yet, but every time I start looking at flights down under I start with them and by pricing their SkyCouch product. Of course I inevitably end up going the other direction and ending up in Continental Europe, but one day… one day.

While Delta’s offering is good, it doesn’t feel as innovative and “wow” as the SkyCouch.

David SF eastbay

Sounds like difference won the award and not overall benefit to the most travelers.

Except for a couple of small kids, it doesn’t look comfortable for two adults. I don’t like anyone that much to be to cramped and uncomfortable while trying to sleep…


Virgin America for paid upgrades while on the aircraft?! El Al has been offering this for years.

Jake Redman

…and as for domestics (US) Sun Country also offers in-flight upgrades for pretty cheap.


As someone who just distilled a couple of years worth of paychecks into two YVR/HKG business class tickets on CX for a milestone holiday (my blog entry “A Lap of Luxury”) I have been following the Sky Couch story with keen interest. I’m delighted to hear it’s been a financial success and sincerely hope other airlines will consider such a service. No question in my mind that when we go to New Zealand we will try the Sky Couch. Congratulations to Air New Zealand.

David Fairhurst

Glad to see that airlines are finally taking passenger comfort seriously. As someone who has done long haul flights in ‘pauper class’ (or you’d think it if you’d seen the lack of legroom!) this is only to be commended!

I’m slightly dubious of a dedicated Twitter channel for passenger interaction when most airlines ask you to turn off all mobile devices whilst in the air… is it just me who has recognised this slight flaw?

Sanjeev M

It’s useful for ground delays and such when regular desks and phone lines are busy. Also, people can have mobile devices in flight mode using gogo. I think even DeltaAssist is free access to all (whitelisted) as well.

Nick Barnard

I think what you’re trying to get at CF is that SkyCouch is Revolutionary, whereas all the others are evolutionary. The other four are logical extensions from existing products. The SkyCouch has very little as far as a predecessor product.


It’s worth mentioning that Air NZ also fly new 777-300ER from LAX to London, and that their Premium Economy seating is also innovative, particularly the central pair and

Claire Field

We flew Air NZ with the SkyCouch upgrade in January, return leg in April for my husbands sabbatical, to NZ. We have 2 small children (4&2) and it was an absolute godsend for us. But before I comment on that, I wanted to say that AirNz were brilliant with us from start to finish (unlike VAA who we flew with to SFO to begin our sabbatical and they were beyond atrocious for various reasons I won’t bore you with!). The skycouch is a great set up – kids sat happily watching tv until we took off, then i set the… Read more »