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Economy Class Plane Seats Will Soon Be Lie-Flat

However, you’ll need to wait two years, book a flight to New Zealand, and accept sharing.

The first lie-flat “pods” will soon be available in economy class on airplanes.

The SkyNest concept has been under development for the past five years, and Air New Zealand revealed on June 28 that it will be ready for prime time in 2024. The seats sit in the back of the aircraft, directly behind the premium economy section, and are totally flat, furnished with actual mattresses as well as cooling pillows and linen. However, there is a ton of fine print on this news, as there is with everything related to flying today.
First off, the cost of an economy ticket does not include the seats.

The airline has estimated that it takes four hours to give passengers two sleep cycles, which are normally around 90 minutes long, plus additional time to wind down and wake up. SkyNests are a different product that consists of bunk beds piled three high. Six of these “pods” will be installed on each aircraft, and they will be rotated between “sessions” by the flight attendants who clean and replace the linens during 30-minute cleaning windows.

Although the price of the SkyNest lie-flat seat has not yet been established, anyone traveling in economy or premium economy will have access to it.

Although Air New Zealand hasn’t decided whether it will be fixed or dynamic dependent on demand or timing inside the flight, pricing will be the same regardless of the class of ticket.

It’s been 170,000 hours of design, constant evolutions of small and large design developments, tweaks and engineering feats to get to where we are, says Leanne Geraghty, the airline’s chief customer and sales officer, who says that the final product reflected loads of customer feedback. They weren’t shy to tell us what the pain points were, what worked well and where we could improve, she explains.

She continues by saying that the focus of the following stage of customer research will be on the price point.

Another disclaimer: If you stick to the definition of “pods,” it’s just a true “first.” The SkyCouch, an existing lie-flat option offered by Air New Zealand, enables passengers to extend specially made footrests from each of the three economy seats in a row, essentially widening the seats and converting the row into a makeshift bed. Families love it because they can spread out horizontally over a row they’ve reserved together. However, the option is also bookable for a lone traveler; booking three business class seats from either New York or Chicago to Auckland costs about $5,000, while booking three economy seats costs about $3,000 each.

The SkyNest won’t have the annoying gaps and raised armrests between seats like the SkyCouch does, and the mattress will be thicker because the SkyNest is designed specifically to be used as a bed. However, because the sessions are four hours long, you can only use it for naps.

Although the airline hasn’t made a decision on whether multiple sessions can be booked back-to-back, it’s likely that demand won’t allow for it. On Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9s’ current configurations, there are 248 seats in the premium economy and economy cabins, so nearly that many passengers would be vying for the 18 available slots. (Given the dimensions—the beds are 80 inches long—the six bunks are probably going to replace about 12 seats.)

While passengers who happen to have an empty row can use the SkyCouch at no additional cost, Geraghty says SkyNests won’t be made available for free if they’re otherwise unoccupied. Unlike a SkyCouch, each bed is intended for just one person with no weight restriction, thus parents and children cannot share a bed.

On aircraft operating Air New Zealand’s ultralong-haul nonstop routes, such Chicago or New York to Auckland, SkyNests will enter service in 2024.

Starting in September, the nonstop flights from/to New York will be among the world’s longest at 17.5 hours. Beginning in October, Chicago-bound flights will take 15 hours.

All of this is done in an effort to spark interest in taking the epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Zealand. The nation delayed opening its international borders for a longer period of time than practically any other, and as it reconsiders its reliance on mass tourism, it is aiming to appeal to wealthier and more ethical consumers. One of the biggest obstacles for the nation in doing that is reestablishing airlift—convenient and reliable access to flights.

However, Air New Zealand is prepared to play a role. It serves as a good reminder that the airline’s SkyCouch does offer a more comfortable way to tackle extremely lengthy flights on its 777 and 787-9 aircraft, in addition to using the upcoming SkyNest concept as a promotional chip to spark interest in the near future.

Additionally, the airline is redesigning all of its cabin amenities, from business to economy, with lighter-weight materials that are intended to reduce carbon emissions. For example, front-of-the-plane seats will have fabric upholstery rather than leather and food service will use smaller plates. They might not be fancy additions, but they represent the reality of the current aviation market, where costs are falling.

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