Trying to Do the Math on Air New Zealand’s Skynest Coach Beds

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand recently came out with a prototype of the Skynest, a pod of flat beds for use by coach passengers. It looks great, and it generated tons of press, but can this really work? I decided to play with numbers a little bit.

First, let’s take a look at a photo of this thing:

As you can see, there are six beds in each pod, and they stacked three high on each side. This gives a whole new meaning to the word bunk bed. But in reality, it just looks like a modified version of a crew rest area with some more appealing touches. Here’s a closer look of what it would look like to have people using it:

My first instinct was to think… how much would they have to charge to justify ripping out seats to fit this thing? This was a challenge since I couldn’t get the most basic piece of information I’d need.

See, Air New Zealand’s media agency did a big push to get people to write about it, but they did not do a good job of actually getting questions answered. I was told that I’d get an answer, but “the response will be delayed due to differing time zones.” It’s been more than a week, so I think it’s safe to say that this is more than a time zone issue now, and I’m just not going to hear back.

So, what do we know? Well, the beds themselves are “in excess of 200cm,” so let’s go with 79 inches which is just a bit above. As for width, you’re looking at “in excess of 58cm” for the shoulder width, so we’ll go with 23 inches.

This is where we have to start guessing. From the looks of the design, it seems like the beds are in a “V” shape where the heads are closer to together than the feet. But it looks like the bed narrows toward the feet, so that the overall width of the pod may be uniform.

Beds side-by-side add up to 46 inches at the shoulders. Call it six inches between the beds, and then there’s probably another couple inches on each side of the beds. At most, say it’s 60 inches wide.

Then for the length, it’s a little harder to estimate. Since the beds angle toward the side, even though the bed length is 79 inches, the pod length could be less. I can’t really tell how much, so let’s look at this from the other side.

Let’s look at a 787 at the airline which had a 3-3-3 configuration and is the airplane of the future for the carrier. Air NZ’s seat width between the armrests is around 17.2 inches in coach. Including armrests, a set of three seats should be… right around 60 inches. That’s about the same width as the Skynest, if we’re guessing correctly. That means this should be able to fit in between the aisles as they’re built today. (It can’t be on the sides, because the cabin ceiling it’s high enough.)

Now for length. Seat pitch is between 31 and 33 inches in coach, so two rows would be 62 to 66 inches. Could Air NZ actually get this to fit in a 66 inch length? No, not that I can tell.

It’s time to go back to high school geometry. Everyone remember the Pythagorean Theorem? a2 + b2 = c2 So, if we assume that one side is 66 inches long and the other is 23 inches, then the hypotenuse is just shy of 70 inches. But the bed is 79 inches, so that won’t fit. We need closer to 75 inches or more.

That’s an awkward measurement, until you look at the airplane. Take a look at the back of the 787 in the Air NZ configuration:

Imagine taking those last two rows in the center section and then infringing upon the galley space behind by about a foot. Then you have a place to put this thing.

Assuming that Air NZ can make this work by only having to replace 2 rows of seats, does that make it doable? That would replace six seats with six beds. The problem there is that those six beds have to be used by existing passengers that have already paid for seats. The million dollar question is whether Air NZ can get six people on the airplane to pay enough to get a bed to offset the cost of losing six seats.

If we look at random dates in July, a roundtrip from Los Angeles to Auckland in coach runs $1042.25 with a base fare of $933 which goes to the airline. So that’s $466.50 one way that Air New Zealand keeps. Of course, this is the lowest fare in the market, so the average fare will be somewhat above that. But if we look at how the Skycouch is priced, that might tell us how Air New Zealand values that last marginal seat.

The Skycouch takes a set of three seats on the side and turns it into a very short bed. If you buy two seats, you can get the Skycouch which includes the third seat for $449 each way. That’s quite close to the lowest fare the airline would accept, so it makes sense.

Another way to look at this, however, is what Air New Zealand would charge to let one person buy a Skycouch. Looking at it this way takes more of a revenue/demand approach than a cost approach. One person in a coach seat can buy a Skycouch for $899 each way. That takes two extra seats out of inventory to give someone a small bed. If Air NZ can get people to pay for that, then a Skynest would be a huge win. The Skynest would give someone a proper bed while only displacing one coach seat. The product is better for the passenger and the cost to Air NZ is lower.

What’s interesting is that if a traveler bought the lowest coach fare and added a Skycouch in each direction, it’s just about the same cost as buying a premium economy ticket. The products are quite different, of course, so it may just be a matter of appealing to what people care about most. Premium economy isn’t a bed or even close to it, but the rest of the experience is better than coach.

For someone who just wants to sleep in a bed and doesn’t care about the rest, the Skynest could be the perfect solution. It is significantly different from business class that I wouldn’t think there would be much risk of dilution. Even if there is, it’s only six seats, so the risk is relatively small.

If you figure that you could find at least six people on a flight to pay that $899 for the Skynest, then this seems like it’s a winner. There are other ways to get there too. You could sell half flight access to the beds for $500 each. That’s particularly possible on an ultra-long haul flight like Auckland to Newark which clocks in at over 15 hours. The revenue potential grows.

Of course, a lot of this analysis is just a back of the envelope look, but I can see why Air New Zealand might like this. It’s a very interesting idea.

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25 comments on “Trying to Do the Math on Air New Zealand’s Skynest Coach Beds

  1. We’re flying round trip HNL-AKL in July/August (unless Covid-19 gets Worldcon canceled…) and we’ve booked a SkyCouch for the two of us. It was totally worth the ~$350 each way to ensure an empty seat between us, she requires a window and I an aisle. I really can’t see how this idea will make money for them.

  2. This is impressive, I admire NZ’s leadership on Y cabin paxex (most other airlines said “not enough upside” to skycouch) and can’t wait to see how they resolve some obvious issues here.

    I’ve been surprised by the renderings of this. Typically, artists’ impressions are generous to the product — this looks VERY tight.

    If anybody in that pod has BO or passes gas it’s going to be uninhabitable. Plus ADA and people of size issues. UA’s eight-across “dorm” business class is tight, nine-across 787 and 10-across 777 economy is tight, but at least you have air above you. Here you open your eyes and surprise! there’s a human drooling and snoring 10 inches from your face!

    Also betting they go with the rental/shift approach over the whole-flight approach.

    1. Jon – Let’s not forget that these seats are also right next to the labs, adding noise issues in addition to your aforementioned odor concerns…

  3. Even better, if on some of their long routes they’re having to take load penalties and block off some seats in order to ensure range anyway, then this is perfect (as long as it’s no heavier than 6 economy seats, which might be questionable). You’re basically reselling one of the seats that you were forced to leave empty to someone who was already elsewhere on the plane. (Though I suppose the SkyCouch concept achieves pretty much the same thing.)

    1. Yeah this was my thought exactly. I don’t fly AirNZ much but I fly Qantas long haul often – and they fly similar routes. The thing is that the flights are never ever ever ever full. They can’t carry enough fuel to carry their freight and a full load of passengers. So there are always empty seats in economy. Often a lot. This takes out 6 empty seats and makes them worth something.

  4. The only flaw here is that putting a Skynest next to the rear galley and restrooms is a recipe for failure. Noise, light, and presumably odor pollution for a bed that costs 2x standard coach (and doesn’t allow you to sit up straight for 12+hrs) will be a harder sell. I guess if the entry for the Skynest faced forward to the cabin, that would at least alleviate some of the light and noise issues. But how does one eat in a 3-person bunk?

    I sound negative – I actually really like the idea quite a bit. From a practical standpoint though, the tradeoffs make this a tougher sell than i’d think it should be.

    1. The Skynest is only there for a passenger to sleep in, when he/she wants to sit up, or eat…. i would assume they would go back to their assigned seat.

  5. Holy cow! These are approved for taxi/takeoff/landing? As someone else mentioned , what are the egress issues, when one cannot sit upright for 12+ hours? And right next to the lavs (oh how I wish they were next to labs! Dogs on planes rock! But I digress.) and the galleys–noise, odors, light. Every time the seat belt sign is illuminated, the flight attendant is required to confirm compliance, so you’d constantly be bothered during this check. How would one eat or drink? As for a mid-flight tradeout, who is going to ensure clean linens? How gross to think about who/what occupied that space prior to you. We’re concerned about influenza/COVID-19 right now, but the idea of spending half a long-haul flight in a coffin-like area that (probably) won’t be disinfected between users is appalling. This just doesn’t seem safe or comfortable. What a recipe for a miserable flight. I think the air carrier is crazy to implement this.

      1. Are they approved or certified by any regulatory agency for use at all (or do they not have to be)?

        1. Jason – They would definitely need to be approved. They know that, and they will make sure that gets done if/when they put this on an airplane.

    1. if your seat belt is lit, have a status LED show on the outside of the bed console thingy. People with it fastened wont get disturbed since the attendants could check via the status light as they make their cabin check.

    2. From my time flying NZ eleven years ago, they aren’t like US airlines in that they don’t turn on the seat belt light when encountering the slightest bit of chop. They only turn on the sign when it’s really rocking and rolling.

  6. NZ is being innovative again. I like this idea. I’d rather fly J, but this product will surely do if you want to lie down and sleep.

    I have a terrible sense of smell and I usually play music over my headsets while I sleep on a plane and it makes it so I can’t hear what else is going on.

  7. I find some comments amusing and predictable. Is snoring really any worse in the beds vs a std coach seat where people are all around you and the person next to you may be within 12” or less? BO or gas? You can have the same issues in your coach seats. Add some air nozzles and it won’t be any worse. Ear plugs can block most noise.

    This isn’t being sold as first class.

  8. Would imagine the optimal configuration on this would be a 777 or the late 747, where the floor to ceiling volume is greater.

    Seems like an interesting idea. The only issue I could imagine would be that on a trans-Pacific flight, the demand would out-strip the supply.

  9. If the price was right and work would pay I’d take that for long haul, at least once. (If our preferred carrier had it,

  10. Love the idea. As a business owner, I could easily support paying for a bed and seat that is somehow less than a business class seat. Whether humans could politely cohabitate in the bed setting would be a fascinating thing to learn…the only part where I diverge is on hte idea of buying it for half the flight, even on an ultra long haul. I’m a skeptic that people would go for having a check-out time in flight. If this is all about generating revenue despite the load penalty, why not try it?

  11. Remember that these are the same folks that came up with the idea of turning a row of 3 seats into a mini-bed for 2. Another interesting idea. We’ll see how it pans out.

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