Air New Zealand Skynest: Bunk Beds Coming To Economy?

Filed Under: Air New Zealand

Here’s something that would be absolutely awesome, but I’m skeptical of whether it will ever become a reality.

Air New Zealand’s Skynest economy beds

Air New Zealand has today unveiled a new lie-flat prototype sleep product for economy travelers. The airline is today filing a patent and trademark application for the concept, which they’ve been working on for three years.

Each Air New Zealand’s Skynest consists of six full length lie-flat sleep pods, which are in a “V” shape, with three levels.

Here’s a video showcasing the concept:

 

As Air New Zealand’ Chief Marketing and Customer Officer, Mike Tod, describes the product:

“We have a tremendous amount of development work underway looking at product innovations we can bring across all cabins of the aircraft. A clear pain point for economy travellers on long-haul flights is the inability to stretch out. The development of the Economy Skynest is a direct response to that challenge.”

A final decision will be made in 2021

Air New Zealand operates some really long flights, including plans to launch an Auckland to Newark flight later this year, which will be among the longest in the world.

Air New Zealand says that they’ll make a final decision on whether to actually offer this product in 2021, after assessing the performance of the inaugural year of Auckland to Newark operations (so that suggests a decision would come in late 2021 at the earliest).

How big would these economy bunk beds be?

With this concept there would be three beds on top of one another, and each would be at least 200cm (~78 inches) long, and at least 58cm (~23 inches) wide around the shoulder area.

Each sleeping pod would include a full-size pillow, sheets and blanket, and ear plugs, along with privacy curtains and lighting designed for sleep.

Other features are being explored as well, including separate reading lights, personal device USB outlets, and air nozzles.

How would Air New Zealand sell these beds?

One thing Air New Zealand hasn’t addressed yet is the logistics of these bunk beds, especially regarding how they’d sell Skynests.

These are beds that don’t turn into seats, so you presumably wouldn’t be booking a Skynest for the entire flight. Rather I’d assume that you can buy a Skynest to rest for some portion of the flight. Will they essentially sell it so that passengers can pay for some number of hours of rest, or…?

If so, I’m curious what their research has revealed regarding peoples’ willingness to pay. Are there enough economy passengers willing to pay a sizable amount to make this financially viable?

Where in the plane would Skynests be located?

Air New Zealand has only so far said that these Skynests would be in the economy cabin. They haven’t clarified where in the economy cabin they would be, though.

We’ve seen the concept of bunk beds proposed in the past, though most proposals I’ve seen involve cargo containers that can be connected to the cabin (just as some A340-600s have lavatories on the lower floor in economy). It sounds like these bunk beds would be integrated into the main cabin, though.

The crew rests are located above the cabin, though with beds stacked three high, it sounds like this would actually be in lieu of some seats in the cabin.

Other airlines can license the concept

Air New Zealand does explicitly note in the press release that they expect other airlines will want to license the Economy Skynest. That’s an interesting thing to explicitly call out in a press release about this concept, and makes you wonder…

Air New Zealand did introduce the Skycouch

When it comes to unique economy class concepts, I do think it’s worth noting that Air New Zealand came up with the Skycouch concept. With this, a row of economy seats can essentially be turned into a couch. This is great for couples, or those traveling with families.

The biggest shortcoming of the Skycouch is the size — it’s only 49″ long, which is 4ft1in. Unless you’re on the shorter side, it’s not exactly a long enough surface on which to properly sleep.

Bottom line

This is an innovative concept from Air New Zealand, and we’ve truly never seen anything like this before from an airline in economy. The concept as such has been thrown around before, though we’ve never seen an airline follow through.

While I’d love to see this, I’m highly skeptical, and would speculate that the airline probably won’t end up following through with this concept. It sounds like we’ll have to wait until late 2021 at the earliest for Air New Zealand to make a decision.

This would be awesome, though I’m still curious how the logistics would work. Would you reserve a Skynest with your ticket for a certain number of hours during the flight, and if so, do you select the “slot” you want at booking, or…?

What do you make of Air New Zealand’s Skynest?

Comments
  1. Cool concept, much like a couchette on the train. I’d definitely be interested at the right price. You can kind if see how this doesn’t take up much more space than (maybe) 3 rows of economy seating. So if this is priced in a similar range to premium economy it should work out for Botha the airline and the passenger.

  2. Didn’t they say they’d introduce a new J product with EWRAKL? Still hoping they follow through on that. 18 hours is going to be a long time to spend in a herringbone J

  3. Intriguing. On such long flights they would have to have an area where these passengers can eat. Likely prepackaged sandwiches and wraps standing up. For that reason I doubt it would work. If they did do it it would be priced between premium economy and business class.

  4. OMG the snoring! They are really short though (and I am short!). Great idea but I would never fall asleep (bad sleeper even in suites).

  5. @ Pk — They are indeed planning on introducing a new product, though I don’t think it will debut with the Newark flight (though I could be missing something). I think it might take a bit longer.

  6. I agree wit @Reaper, pricing would be very difficult. Based on the dimensions and it supposedly being in the coach cabin, a group of 6 bunks would displace about 8 economy seats (seems like 2 rows of middle 4 in a 77W). Even assuming those ‘last 8’ seats are only sold half the time, each bed would need a 2/3 price premium over your average coach seat to justify it.

    The other question would be certification – I don’t know if orgs like the FAA would certify something like this given the bunk aspect and having to climb down to get to the door, even if it isn’t used during taxi/takeoff/landing

  7. I’d use this and I’d reserve it for the entire flight. Usually for the US flights it’s overnight and after food service you just want to sleep anyway. 6 pods is just enough for my family with the baby, otherwise I’d be turfed out and the wife and kids would use it. We’ve flown Sky Couch before and it was awesome. Had 3 x Sky Couches, kids got heaps of sleep and it was a pleasure to fly. Definitely the kind of innovation I’ve come to expect from Air New Zealand.

  8. Or they could market some tickets as “Economy Plus” which provides access to these beds for a certain time slot.

  9. China is one a few places in the world where sleeper trains are still common and affordable. This is very similar to the two-and three-tier sleeper bunks they have on many trains there.

    Before the direct high-speed line was opened in December 2018, I took a 19 hour sleeper train from Shanghai to Huangshan. It was super-pleasant, with lots of time to read, drink libations, sleep, etc. I would be a huge fan of this concept for planes, even if it means other traveler are clambering past me with their smelly feet.

  10. This is sheer genius. Trust me I would pay big money after 10 hours in economy to lie down in any size bed. God I’d pay a lot to lie in the floor !!

  11. Would this take up cabin space, or could they be located below or above the cabin, like the crew rest areas are?

    How much cargo demand is there between NZ and Newark?

  12. Interesting concept. I assume pricing would be similar to the skycouches now? How do you climb to the top bunk?

  13. I picked a random date and currently it looks like Air NZ is selling AKL-SFO economy at US$429, premium economy US$1010, and business US$3152. I think they’ve got quite a bit of “leg-room” to play with price wise and I would definitely pay a decent premium to get one of those for the whole flight, along with an economy seat for take-off, landing and eating, .

    In terms of logistics, putting aside Newark, most of the long-haul flights Air NZ operates are 10-12 hours. I think they’d only be be able to sell each bed once per flight.

  14. They should first focus on updating their business class (as they’ve already indicated) and deliver on that promise, and then talk economy class all they like. Their soft product is excellent, but they have to do something about that business class. I always travel with them in business class, and I always pay for the fare, which is VERY pricey, and every time I get on the plane, I feel like I’m owed a partial refund in comparison to what you get in other business classes.

  15. Looks very interesting. I think alternating V’s could fit in the center section of an A350 or 777. That way seat density would be about the same as existing configuration, especially when replacing the middle 3 on an A350. The bunks could also convert to bench seating for take-off and landing, similar to the way 6-person sleeping compartments work on trains.

  16. What are their current load factors? I doubt they’re full on every flight and it might be worth removing 18 seats to put in 12 beds, I assume they’d run front to back in the cabin. Put them at the back of the cabin, let people reserve in 5 hour blocks (or whatever 1/2 the flight time is), or maybe even down to 1/3 flight time. Maybe add in a shower and tack that on as extra. And sell merch too for it, PJs, slippers, and the like.

    Good for them for trying to innovate in Econ on such long flights!

  17. Instead of charging it as a seat for the duration of the flight, make it an option add-on. Not sure how to charge passengers? I got your solution my Kiwi buddies!

    Treat it like a restroom, but let people sign up via a cue on an APP instead of physically lining up. People can pay for blocks of time in 30 minute or hour increments via their credit card so passengers can make their own decisions based on how much they are willing to pay. Make the cost an upward slope model (longer blocks = higher incremental cost) to dissuade people hogging it for long periods of time so everyone can use it. This way, don’t have to worry about people failing to wake up as it comes with a financial consequence.

    The wait list will be on a first come, first served basis, allowing people to sign up during online check-in. DO NOT give priority to elite flyers (that’s discrimination and unfair against non-elites, ie lifeboats only for the rich on the Titanic), but do charge elites less compared to others so they can feel privileged some way.

    This will be designed as a restroom during portions of the flight. Heck, isn’t this what a “rest” room supposed to mean rather than discharging bodily fluids?

    The entire pod can be located at a bulkhead or non emergency exit galley area. Current design needs a fix, don’t have that step stool down the middle where everyone enters at the same point (it’s dangerous there because upper bunk passenger might accidentally step on those on the lower bunk. Instead, have one row enter the pod from outside of the unit (steps built in), one from inside (bottom bunk only), and the other from the pointed area of the “V”. Yes, people we live in a 3D dimension!

    Damn, I need to get this patented…!

  18. on the plus side, these bunkbeds should be very cheap to make. Unlike most new J/F seats that cost a fortune.

  19. I like the idea, but I can just imagine getting stuck with a frazzled single mom and 3 badly behaved little kids shrieking and climbing up and down the bunks. I would not be happy, especially if I paid a premium for it.

  20. At the time Skycouch was introduced, there was some worry in the media that couples would be having sex all over NZ Economy. (This must happen more often than we expect, no?)

    Now ANZ can fit in four couples for the price of one!

  21. I could see there being interest in this in two cases:

    1. A long-haul flight, night-time flight, assuming the price is significantly less than the cost of a lie-flat business seat on the same route, and you can book the beds for slots long enough to get a full night’s sleep
    2. Any other flight, as long as the price is marginal, and you can book in 30 minute increments for naps.

    I’d like to know more though about whether this product would replace existing seating, and if so, how many seats.

  22. Definitely no pooches in these beds….unless we… what do you call them?…Yes “support animals”… (This is in relation to the most discussed doggie, little Winston lol)

    Seems like the crew rest areas have now come into the main cabin though with larger beds.

  23. From what I hear from my friends at Air NZ is you will rent the space by the hour. So you have your economy/premium seat then you say I will buy a 4-hour (persay) block to get some snooze then back to your normal seat. Time will tell.

  24. To make it more economical these should come with strategically placed crappy (last row?) seats for take off and landing. Bottom bunk could easily be the “seat” for the person who reserves it. With the right minds on this project they could make it work and it could be awesome.

  25. @Lucky I think the real question is, if they went through with this, would you book an international long-haul flight in economy just to do the review?

  26. Bad idea. Even if they charge by the hours, who would want to sleep so close to a bunch of strangers? We already have issues with some perverts in the plane now.

  27. I’d hate it when my booked/allocated time is up when I am having a bloody good sleep. Good luck waking people up and kicking them out. Some people are very moody when they got woken up 😉

    And it looks like this will be in place of the 2 toilets in the middle of the plane somewhere. Some airlines now places 2 toilets in the middle of the plane right across from the emergency exit doors, instead of an empty space where passengers can walk from one aisle to another. Maybe Air NZ will place their Skynest there.

    PS. their skycouch, although quite short, is actually wider than the average bed in business class. That’s a good trade off considering u are only paying economy class fares (plus the one/two extra seat without the airport taxes). And it works wonderfully well for 1 parent + 1 child on a row of skycouch.

  28. Never been the one to correct others, however my engineering mind cannot pass up that 49″ is 4’1, not 5.
    Keep up the great work @Lucky

  29. This is a brilliant concept building, as you suggest, on the Skycouch. It makes a lot of sense given that Kiwis are prolific travellers and New Zealand is pretty remote so any international trip other than to Australia is by definition a long haul.

    Time will tell, yes, but if anyone can pull it off I’d put money on Air New Zealand.

  30. Assuming the price was say $NZD 500-600 ($US330-$400 ish) per 4 hour x3 high thats $NZ1500 per 4 hours so a max income of $4500 for a 12 hr plus flight x 2 stacks of bed is $9000. Not a great return but would be invaluable in directing passengers to Air NZ for the benefit of a real sleep so might increase total seat utilisation. Great idea, just depends on price.

    On the space seat (we kiwis call it cuddle class). I lucked out and had the entire row to myself from akl to sin. I am 6’3” and sleeping diagonally with my knees bent had a fantastic flight and slept well.

  31. I traveled to Auckland from Houston in an Economy Skycouch – it was great. OK, I had to sleep on the diagonal, but it was comfy and I really got a good rest.

  32. Hmmmm…..this is no different than the Airbus sleeper berth concept, and VERY similar to my seating concept – but still does not offer each passenger a private sleeping space!

    My concept is better!

  33. This would be a total revolution in aviation history. Another alternative was in plan since many years by Lufthansa but was never finalized eventually. This is going to be tricky because no one wants to rest for just one hour during a, let’s say, 16 hours flight. So I am curious to see how people will reserve it and how many beds will be available and what would be the cost. But the idea is revolutionary and I already love it.

  34. key phrase: Running loads limit
    The main reason why this has never been introduced into aircraft main cabin so far. Didn’t anyone knew about it?

  35. I would definitely buy some “pod space”. If you have flown long haul economy you would know the need to lie down flat if only for a few hours. That will help a lot even if I don’t sleep but am lying flat for a few hours. Great concept Air New Zealand.

  36. Interesting. How much would one be willing to pay for using this for 5 hours during a 12 hour flight, in addition to the normal economy fare? Hard to say really. For me it might be like USD 200 maximum, honestly. The whole thing is a bit claustrophobic and if you don’t manage to fall asleep, there is not much you can do there.

  37. Bunkbeds on a plane? The 1930’s and the Douglas Sleeper Transport called and said prior art when it comes to that whole licensing to other airlines things.

    With normal seating the Douglas Sleeper Transport is best know as the DC-3.

  38. Couchettes on a train brought to aviation. In the early 20th century, fixtures like these were common on trains. I think its doable, you just have to change your mindset of how the cabin is laid out. Apply lessons they learned on the rails to the air.

  39. Air Astana has SkyCouch alike product called Economy Sleeper.

    Stretch out and enjoy our Economy Sleeper class on selected international flights. We introduced this innovative concept on flights between Nur-Sultan and London Heathrow, Frankfurt, and Paris.
    Economy Sleeper passengers will enjoy more personal space and privacy in the dedicated and partitioned section in the front of the economy class cabin. With a guaranteed row of three economy class seats for each guest, you will be able to relax with new heights comfort, all for just a little bit more than a full economy class fare. And when the time comes to sleep, the row of seats is transformed with a mattress layer and a luxurious duvet and pillow set, ensuring a sound night’s sleep. Guests will enjoy either KC-TV, Air Astana’s personal inflight entertainment iPad, or integrated personal in-flight entertainment programme featuring the latest movies and an extensive back catalog of music and games.

  40. A little math revision is in order here. Forty-nine inches is FOUR feet ONE inch not five feet one inch.

    I doubt this flies (no pun intended). To make it work Air NZ needs to capture more revenue than it gives up in seat loss. Look around the economy cabin. Most flyers won’t even pay to upgrade to economy comfort for long haul flights. They would have to pay more than the upgrade to economy comfort to get the lie flat option or the numbers won’t work for the airline.

  41. I don’t think anyone mentioned this, but it should be noted that when the passenger next to you books time in the skynest, you’ll have an empty seat next to you and you’ll thus have more room for that block of time at no additional cost.

    In reality, airlines still utilise planes with 31′ seat pitch in economy on ultra long haul flights because there are not enough regulatory protections for passengers comfort and well-being. There should be some sort of minimum standard, like flights over 15 hours should require a certain pitch or passenger minimum space. Until it’s required by regulations, I don’t see airlines enhancing economy passengers comfort.

  42. One thing most are forgetting: if I’m traveling with my partner and she buys four hours in the SkyNest, I get twice the space to sprawl out back in our seats. It’s a 2 for 1 in my mind.

    I fly RT Houston to Auckland in economy every year for work, and I definitely would do this eastbound.

  43. It’s a cool idea, but definitely not an “economy” option. I’m pretty sure regulators will still require passengers to be seated during takeoff and landing. Passengers will be paying at least double in order to have these beds, because they will also need to pay for a normal seat. That will be out of the price range for most passengers, even passengers with enough money for a long-haul ticket.

    Also, what about turbulence? It would be super annoying if the FAs make you get up and return to your seat 3-4 times in the middle of the flight. Personally if I want something better than economy I would just stick with Premium Economy. It’s roomy enough, reclines just enough and I can stay in the same spot for the whole flight.

  44. Who will be the first person to fall out of the top bunk?

    I really find it hard to believe that regulators would rule that this is safe.

  45. It’d be interesting to see this combined with one of the high-density seat proposals (e.g., leaner seats, flip-down seats, etc.) to enable relatively high capacity to seat everyone at take-off/landing/meal-time while allowing a large number of ‘pods’ for rotated sleep. Additionally, outside of mandatory seated times, the people in the pods free up space making relatively dense seating more comfortable. I’d sit crowded in like on the subway for an hour at the beginning and an hour at the end to get a solid 6 hours laying down in a pod.

  46. I gave up on Air NZ after three of four legs LHR-HKG-AKL-LHR in their 777-300 were the most uncomfortable economy trips I’ve ever done. Pax in front reclining into my face the second the belt sign was off, all freakin’ daylight flight bar meal times, having to be reseated because of someone with a medical condition; only a friendly FA who kept me stocked with Lemon and Paeroa salvaged anything. Transferring to a 747 – now all gone – reminded me of the days of 34-inch legroom and room to breathe. Now I fly all-380 to AKL from my local airport. Better food, better service, more space, if just a little. And more room to move around the cabin occasionally.
    Air NZ is an innovative airline but it needs to sort the basics. Outdated Business, ageing, cramped PremEcon, rammed Econ. This revisit of a 30s-50s idea has some merit but I see more problems than solutions. I have seen reviews of SkyCouch where single travellers have had issues with other pax thinking the two empty seats are free and taking up residence on the aisle seat without permission leading to minor confrontations. Some sort of ‘row occupied, f**k off’ signage as been suggested but not implemented.
    I’d consider the pod but I’d want the vent, USB port, stowage for small items like passport and phone, and control over the lighting.

  47. Kudos to Air NZ for innovating! It may not be perfect when they first roll it out but offering other options other than the bus-like seating to price conscious passengers is a potential gold mine (cash and loyalty). I hope they succeed! Thank you, Lucky! I love your blog!

  48. All attempts to add comfort to economy (sky couch) failed in competition, as no one adopted this kind of stuff. Instead, even airlines like Qatar Airways add more seats to their 777 (3-4-3 instead of 3-3-3) to keep the fares competitive. Economy customers choose by price only. Flying around empty beds during take off and landing has to be paid by passengers. People, who want to have a bed can have it in Business Class or even get more space in premium eco. Announcing more space for economy class is perfect for headlines only, its a (well made) pr-stunt in my eyes.

  49. Something old is new again… Some DC-6s had bunk beds.

    I’d gladly sign up for something like this. 100% chance that the FAA/EASA wouldn’t allow people to be in these for take-off/landings, so pax would need regular seats for that portion of the flight.

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