Air NZ's 'cuddle class' to take off
Air New Zealand's revolutionary Skycouch - the closest thing to a lie-flat bed available to economy-class passengers - will soon be taking off in Asia.
Taiwan's China Airlines has become the first carrier to license the design from Air New Zealand. It will begin flights featuring the seats on board its new Boeing 777-300ERs from September.
The Skycouch, nicknamed "cuddle class" by some, converts three economy class seats into a "couch" by retracting the armrests and raising the footrests. Two adults can purchase a third seat at half-price, creating a space they can lie down in.
Passengers will also see the Skycouch appearing on more Air New Zealand routes. It is available on the airline's 777-300 Auckland-Los Angeles-London flights, but will soon be added to its Boeing 777-200s flying to Asia.
The seats will also feature on the airline's new long-range Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners when it takes delivery of the aircraft later this year. The Dreamliners will fly to several Asian destinations but the first route to feature the new jet will be Auckland-Perth.
Air New Zealand's aircraft program director Kerry Reeves said the Skycouch was most popular with young families, though a reasonable number of couples also booked the seats.
Reeves said there had been great interest from other airlines in the concept, but the complexities of introducing the seats were a problem for some.
"Some of them are not sure how they can make it work in their system," Reeves said. He pointed out that, until recently, the most common booking systems used by airlines around the world did not allow passengers to reserve more than one seat for themselves, meaning the Skycouch was not compatible with the software. Air New Zealand has its own tailor-made reservation system.
Reeves said the design had not been tweaked since its introduction in January 2011, but cabin crews had become more active in explaining to passengers how to make the most of the seat design, as it can be configured in several ways.
"We want the passengers to make the most out of it, so we might suggest they configure it a different way depending on the individual needs of the passenger," he said.
Airlines are increasingly looking to innovations in interior designs in order to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Last year, Singapore Airlines unveiled new seats and entertainment as part of a $165 million product refit. The airline offers "suites" in first class on its Airbus A380 superjumbos, featuring closeable doors and seats that can convert into a double bed for couples travelling together.
Rival Emirates, meanwhile, is the only airline that gives first-class passengers the opportunity to take a shower during the flight.