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.