Air New Zealand's SkyCouch put to the test

Craig Platt tests Air New Zealand's radical new seating configuration, the Skycouch.

When it comes to modern passenger seating, most airlines are focused on saving as much space as possible. The more passengers they can squeeze in, the more money they can make.

Lufthansa recently announced it would fit up to 2000 more passengers on its short-haul flights by replacing its economy seats with a new, ultra-thin design. Budget carrier Ryanair, meanwhile, has raised the prospect of vertical seating - that is, making passengers stand up during flights.

Flying in the face of this trend is Air New Zealand, which last year unveiled a radical new economy-class seat design - the Skycouch.

The concept has now become a reality, with Air New Zealand taking possession of a new Boeing 777, the first to be fitted out with the new seats, just before Christmas.

A row of three seats convert into a "couch" through folding the armrests and raising the padded footrests into a position parallel to the seat.

Designed for couples and families, the Skycouch requires the purchase of three seats but a couple can buy the extra seat at a 50 per cent discount.

The airline's former group general manager, Ed Sims, who oversaw the completion of the project as his last duty before leaving the airline, says the concept took more than four years to develop. "CEO Rob Fyfe said he wanted us to be the first airline to allow economy passengers to sleep," Sims says, "but he wanted to do it without giving an extra inch of legroom."

The company experimented with a variety of designs inside a replica aircraft cabin, including bunk beds (it was felt these left passengers feeling "undignified"). The end result was the Skycouch. But after trying out the Skycouch for myself it is apparent that, while it comes close, the design doesn't quite achieve the dream of a lie-flat economy-class bed.

For starters, the length of the couch is only the equivalent of three economy class seats, meaning only the very short can stretch their legs out while lying down. The seats have also been nicknamed "cuddle class" because two adults will need to know each other intimately in order to make the most of the space.

Advertisement

But Sims says the Skycouch was never intended to deliver the same experience passengers get in a first- or business-class flat bed.

"On a Sunday afternoon you might have two or three hours' nap on sofa at home - this is meant to be that sort of experience. It's not going to give you eight or nine hours' unbroken sleep - if you want that then the choice is to trade up to business class."

For an adult travelling with one or two small children, who would each require their own seat anyway, the Skycouch could be a godsend as there is space for children to lie down.

Air New Zealand says it has already been contacted by a number of other airlines interested in licensing the design for their own aircraft.

The new plane will begin its regular role as a long-haul aircraft between Auckland and Los Angeles from April.

Craig Platt travelled as a guest of Air New Zealand.

Comments