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Lie-flat airplane seats are coming to economy class

First, seats are not included in the price of an economy ticket. SkyNests are a separate product, three bunk beds high, and only bookable in four-hour increments — the time the airline set to give guests two sleep cycles (which typically last around 90 minutes) with extra time to unwind and wake up. Each aircraft fitted with it will have six of these “pods,” which are turned over between “sessions” by cabin attendants, who disinfect and replace linens in 30-minute cleaning windows.

The additional cost for the SkyNest reclining seat is yet to be determined, but it will be available to anyone in Economy or Premium Economy. Prices are the same regardless of ticket class, although Air New Zealand has not yet decided whether they will be fixed or dynamic depending on demand or timing within the flight.

“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 now,” says Leanne Geraghty, the airline’s chief customer and sales officer, who says the end product has a lot to offer from customer rating. “They weren’t afraid to tell us what the pain points were, what worked well and where we could improve,” she explains. The next phase of customer research, she adds, will revolve around what people are willing to pay for it.

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Another little small print: It’s only a real “first” if you stick to the definition of “pods”. Air New Zealand already has a couchette option in Economy Class called the SkyCouch – it allows passengers to extend specially designed footrests from all three seats in an Economy row, effectively widening those seats and converting the section into a makeshift bed. It’s very popular with families who can lay horizontally across a row booked together. The option can also be booked for single travelers; Booking three economy seats from New York or Chicago to Auckland costs about $3,000, compared to about $5,000 for a business class seat.

Unlike the SkyCouch, the SkyNest has no annoying gaps and raised armrests between the seats – plus the mattress is thicker since it serves specifically as a bed. But given the four-hour sessions, you can only use it for naps.

The airline hasn’t decided if you’ll be able to book multiple sessions in a row, but chances are demand won’t allow it; In the current configurations of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9, there are 248 seats in the Premium Economy and Economy cabins, so almost many passengers would be vying for the 18 available slots. (Based on dimensions — the beds are 80 inches long — it’s likely the six bunks would replace about 12 seats.)

While travelers who happen to have a row to themselves can use the SkyCouch at no extra cost, Geraghty says SkyNests aren’t made available for free if they otherwise go unused. Each bed is designed for just one person with no weight restrictions, and unlike a SkyCouch, parents cannot share a bed with their child.

SkyNests will be deployed on aircraft serving Air New Zealand’s ultra-long-haul non-stop routes such as Chicago or New York to Auckland in 2024. The direct flights to New York, which begin this September, will be among the longest flights in the world at 17.5 hours. The 15-hour flights from Chicago begin in October.

It’s all part of an attempt to generate interest in the big bucket list trip to New Zealand. The country has stalled from opening its international borders longer than almost any country and is targeting wealthier and more conscientious consumers as it reconsiders its reliance on mass tourism. Restoring the airlift — convenient and reliable access to flights — is one of the country’s biggest challenges in making that happen.

But Air New Zealand is ready to play its part. Not only does it use the future SkyNest concept as an advertising chip to generate short-term interest, it’s also a good reminder that the SkyCouch offers the airline a more comfortable way to handle ultra-long trips on its 777 and 787-9 aircraft.

And the airline is also overhauling its cabin interiors as a whole, from business to economy class, with lighter designs meant to reduce carbon emissions — think cloth upholstery instead of leather seats in the front of the plane, or slimmer dishes for the food service. They may not be glamorous upgrades, but they reflect the reality of today’s flying climate, where falling costs (and especially fuel economy) necessarily trump everything.

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