Air New Zealand is preparing for the era of ultra-long-haul flights, such as the airline’s upcoming Auckland-New York service which will take up to 17 hours 40 minutes, with a concept to benefit economy class passengers. The airline has filed patent and trademark applications for the Economy Skynest, a design which provides six full-length lie-flat sleep pods, and has been created following three years of research and development, with the input of more than 200 customers at its Hangar 22 innovation centre in Auckland.
“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,” explained Air New Zealand’s chief marketing and customer officer, Mike Tod.
The Economy Skynest is a space-efficient unit, with the six bunk-style pods arranged in a V. The layout gives privacy in the head area, with mood lighting helping create a relaxed feel. The airline cannot yet confirm where the unit will be positioned within the aircraft, apart from that it will be within the economy cabin. The Skynest would detract from seat count, but that lost revenue would be offset and more through ancillary revenues and weight reductions, not to mention brand perception benefits.
The development team have confirmed that each pod will be in excess of 200cm long and in excess of 58cm at the shoulder area.
Nikki Goodman, Air New Zealand’s general manager of customer experience, says that customer and cabin crew feedback on the Economy Skynest during its final phase of development has been “outstanding, with significant partners also keenly involved”.
“We see a future flying experience where an economy-class customer on long-haul flights would be able to book the Economy Skynest in addition to their economy seat, get some quality rest and arrive at their destination ready to go. This is a game-changer on so many levels,” Goodman stated.
It is too early to say whether the pods would be available for paid use for the entire flight duration or by the hour; indeed Air New Zealand will make a final decision on whether to operate the Economy Skynest at all in 2021 after it has assessed the performance of its inaugural year of Auckland-New York operations.
However, flyers may be able to experience the design on other airlines, as Air New Zealand is considering licencing the design, as it does with the innovative Economy Skycouch.
Air New Zealand’s head of airline programmes, Kerry Reeves says the scale of the challenge in developing the Economy Skynest and working through its certification with the necessary regulators is “immense” compared with the development of the Economy Skycouch. However, he describes the economy class dormitory as “a prize worth chasing, and one that we think has the potential to be a game-changer for economy class travellers on all airlines around the world.”
Reeves added that ‘can do’ is one of the airline’s key values and that the Economy Skynest prototype is a tangible example of this. “At Air New Zealand, we continue to nurture a can-do attitude. We’re not afraid of being bold and trying new things. The question is never ‘can we do this’ but instead ‘is it right to do this for our customers?’ and, if so, ‘how will we do this?'”
“Our ability to take a good idea, to execute and deliver an innovation that works in our environment, our market and for our people and customers gives us an edge,” he added.
We have seen several economy and premium economy class bunk bed concepts in recent years, but with Air New Zealand’s design and engineering teams and the airline’s courage with being a first-mover in the passenger experience sphere, Economy Skynest might just take to the skies. Quite what the design will mean for the airline’s premium economy cabin is less certain though…