For a small country on the edge of nowhere, New Zealand has certainly and continues to, show that they are outside the box thinkers. The folks down at Air New Zealand are certainly from that mould.
The most recent idea that has travellers excited is the Skynest. Maybe that sounds like it is for the birds, but let’s just back up a little and look at the drivers for such an idea, before we look at the idea itself.
New Zealand is as I said earlier, is on the edge of nowhere. We used to joke that, “it isn’t the end of the Earth, but on a clear day you can see it from here”. Quaint, but what has that got to do with Skynests and Air New Zealand? Well, being so far from the main population areas of the world, most flights out of New Zealand are Medium to Long Haul services. If you can travel up the pointy end of the plane, the pain is somewhat reduced by varying degrees of lie-flat seats. The few times I have travelled in such style, I found it ok, but not perfect. Perhaps it was the lack of privacy, or simply that a seat that tries to be a bed as well, usually fails to do either perfectly.
The point is though, what about us poor schmucks back in cattle class? Going all the way from Auckland to London with enough room for one butt cheek is not a good way to fly, but it means you have a little more money to spend on the rest of your holiday. So we endure it. At least you can get out for air somewhere around halfway along the route for a walk around as they put more fuel in the tank. This way your legs can be reprogrammed to walk again. But wait a minute………….
Didn’t Air New Zealand announce that they were about to start flights, non-stop Auckland to New York? What is that? Around 18 hours? I don’t think the mind can take in sitting in a seat without the freedom of movement for that long. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t sleep sitting up. I can’t read enough books, watch enough movies or anything else you can think of to make 18 hours pass.
Back to Skynest. Air New Zealand has a high proportion of the longest air routes in the world in its network. So the appetite for finding a solution to the discomfort of economy passengers on Long Haul and Super Long Haul routes is high. Air New Zealand is not a stranger to innovation, having brought us the Economy Skycouch, where a row of 3 seats can be converted to a lie-flat bed that can accommodate two people. Admittedly the length is around 155cm which means you have to keep your feet tucked in, lest they get trimmed off neatly at the ankles by the drinks trolley.
Skynest takes things to the next level. It takes up the same space as to rows of seats, so two sets of 3. This is replaced by an alcove that has 2 sets of 3 tier bunk beds either side. The 6 people are accommodated in the same space but in lie-flat beds which are semi-private. It looks like a great way to get some shut-eye.
Air New Zealand have a been working on this concept for around 3 years now and have sought feedback which has been very favourable. Overseas consultants and other trial participants were brought in and after signing secrecy agreements, tested 11 different scenarios revolving around a range of seats and other products to come to the final design. Air New Zealand will be looking to patent the Skynest and sell to other carriers who may be interested, just as they have with Sky-couch.
It may be a while before we see Skynests in the air, in fact, Air New Zealand will be making a decision on this next year once the Auckland to New York non-stop service has operated for a year. Where will Skynest fall in the price range? Thinking currently is that it will be higher than the normal economy fare but lower than premium economy.