Skip to main content

Air New Zealand reveals new lie-flat design for economy class

Air New Zealand is launching new seats in its long haul economy class, with a section of the plane fitted with “Skycouch” seats designed to create a three-seat wide airborne equivalent of a foldout couch. It’s an effort to create the first lie-flat bed in coach, a worthy goal if ever there was one.

Starting in November 2010, the window seats in the first eleven rows of economy class of newly-delivered Boeing 777-300s will have cushioned extensions (positioned like calf supports when in “seat” mode) which extend up to create a couch-like flat surface.

To reserve a Skycouch, you’ll need to buy three seats, obviously. If you’re traveling as a pair, you can buy your usual two seats and add on the third seat for half the price of the other two.

My first thought, when I saw the design, was that they were making the “ghetto upgrade” — laying down across a row of empty seats — an official booking class. And indeed, that’s the basis of the design, but expanded to be wide enough for two consenting adults.

No curtains, and no undressing, so don’t get any ideas.

The biggest shortcoming at this point appears to be the length of the bed. The width of three airline seats isn’t that big. Average seat width is 17″. Let’s even add a few inches for gaps between cushions, to be generous. (I know, gaps?) Let’s bump it up to 55″ — 4′ 7″ or 1.4 meters — across all three seats. That’s great if you’re short, but if you’re any taller than that, your feet will be hanging out into aisle. Look at the promo photo below. The guy’s head is angled up the wall of the plane:

There’s some romper room risk here, too. I can see families, especially large ones, buying these seats if they can afford them, and keeping the seats in couch mode for the duration. That means higher odds of noise. If traveling in a non-Skycouch economy seat, and looking for rest, try to find a location as far from the couches as possible.

The airline is also changing its premium economy seats and improving some service delivery in the business cabin. And there’s “new oven technology that will cook food from scratch rather than simply reheating,” but the big news is really (deservedly) the couch-in-coach concept.