Parents have responded enthusiastically after Air New Zealand announced their popular economy Skycouch will be enhanced to cater to infants and children.
Launched in 2011, the Skycouch is made up of three economy seats modified into a lay-flat couch, allowing passengers to lie down during the cruise phase of the flight.
The update includes a new dedicated infant harness, belt and collapsible infant sleep pod, which will allow infants to continue lying down when the seatbelt sign is switched on, including during periods of turbulence.
The announcement has been met with enthusiasm from parents, long frustrated with having to disturb a sleeping child and use a lap belt in the upright position whenever the seatbelt sign is switched on.
It's also good news for other passengers sitting nearby, as nothing is more likely to start a child crying on a flight than being awakened from a nap.
Images released by Air New Zealand show the use of a five-point harness system for infants, similar to what is used in car seats. Available in three sizes and catering for infants up to 18 kilograms, the infant belt will loop through the harness and be secured by a clip in the window seat of the Skycouch.
Modifications have also been made to cater to older children. Previously, the Skycouch included a "Cuddle Belt" that allowed couples to lie side by side. However, the option found favour with families wanting to accommodate young children. Previously the cuddle belt could only be used with an adult and child, but the updated version will allow two children to use it.
"While we initially marketed it to couples, we quickly found the product suited parents with young families especially well," says Air New Zealand General Manager Customer Experience, Anita Hawthorne.
"Parents can relax while their children are able to have their own space and flat area to play without interrupting other passengers."
While bassinets are offered by most airlines to parents with babies up to 10 kilos, there remains a gap in the market for parents trying to make flights easier for younger children.
"When they've grown out of a plane bassinet, any short cuts are lifesavers," says Fairfax contributor and mother of two, Flip Byrnes.
"I've done three return flights to Europe now independently with two children under three years of age.
"I once stood for 15 hours between Sydney and Dubai because I finally had the bubs asleep, but then realised that I had ousted myself of my own seat.
"Genius ideas like this, that can help keep toddlers contained and entertained will win my consumer dollar without a second thought."
Skycouch seats are located in the forward economy cabin, with 13 to 20 Skycouches typically available on each flight depending on the model of aircraft.
Subject to certification and regulatory approval, the new enhancements will be rolled out on Air New Zealand's Boeing 777 and 787-9 Dreamliner fleets, which are used primarily on long haul routes to the United Kingdom, North America and South America, from mid-2018.
Prices for the Skycouch upgrade vary and are based on the destination, demand and number of passengers who occupy the group of seats. A Perth-Auckland flight starts at $299 for two customers to share an Economy Skycouch.
Reservations can be made at the time of booking, or upgraded up if a booking has already been made.
Due to popularity, travellers are being urged to book in advance.
"We're delighted with the early feedback we've received on these enhancements," says Air New Zealand's Senior External Communications Consultant, Kelly Kilgour.
"We know the Economy Skycouch is popular with family groups in particular and these updates have been made with them in mind."