Could this be the end of business class?

Air New Zealand has revealed details of a prototype new economy lie flat seat the company has dubbed as their ‘Economy Skynest’.

The new seating option is the result of three years of Air New Zealand research and development, with the input of more than 200 customers at its Hangar 22 innovation centre in Auckland.

The airline today filed patent and trademark applications for the Economy Skynest which provides six full-length, lie-flat sleep pods.

The exact positioning of the Economy Skynest within the aircraft has still to be confirmed, however, it will be in the Economy cabin.

Air New Zealand has revealed its new lie-flat prototype for economy passengers.Source:Supplied

The overall length of the sleeping pods would be more than 200cm with 58cm width at the shoulder area

It is intended that each pod will include a full-size pillow, sheets and blanket, ear plugs along with privacy curtains and lighting designed for sleep. The airline is exploring other features such as a separate reading light, personal device USB outlet and ventilation outlet.

No prices have been divulged, but the airline’s Skycouch is priced just below that of premium economy.

Air New Zealand chief marketing and customer officer Mike Tod said that as the airline operates some of the world’s longest flights, such as the upcoming Auckland-New York service at up to 17 hours 40 minutes one way, it is committed to putting more magic back into flying.

“We have a tremendous amount of development work underway looking at product innovations we can bring across all cabins of the aircraft. A clear pain point for economy travellers on long-haul flights is the inability to stretch out. The development of the Economy Skynest is a direct response to that challenge,” Mr Tod said.

Air New Zealand will make a final decision on whether to operate the Economy Skynest next year after it has assessed the performance of its inaugural year of Auckland-New York operations.

General manager of customer experience Nikki Goodman said customer and cabin crew feedback on the Economy Skynest during its final phase of development was “outstanding,” with significant partners also keenly involved.

The new Air NZ ‘Skynest’ sleep pods.Source:Supplied

She said this was a “game changer” on many levels.

“This is one of the highlights of three years’ intensive work centred on customer wellbeing. We’re sure this innovation is going to be a game changer for the industry and bring significant improvements to long-haul flying. We expect other airlines will want to explore licensing the Economy Skynest from us just as they have with the Economy Skycouch.”

Air New Zealand’s head of airline programs Kerry Reeves said ‘can do’ is one of the airline’s key values and the Economy Skynest prototype is a tangible example of this.

He said the scale of the challenge in developing the Economy Skynest and working through its certification with the necessary regulators is immense compared with the development of the Economy Skycouch.

“But it was a prize worth chasing and one that we think has the potential to be a game changer for economy class travellers on all airlines around the world.

The airline teased the release of the new seat with a campaign promising that its latest idea was “an absolute snoozefest”.

The Economy Skynest will have six bunk style beds similar in size to business class beds.Source:Supplied

Last June, the New Zealand Herald revealed Air New Zealand was working with overseas consultants on a lie-flat economy seat for new ultra-long range planes.

Since then the trial participants, who signed secrecy agreements, have done 11 rounds of testing of a range of seats and other products that will be fitted in revamped Air New Zealand cabins early next decade.

Skycouch allows one or two people to lie across three largely standard economy seats.

The new seat could be more like a traditional lie-flat business class seat but with less furniture and personal space around it — and it will be narrower.

Aircraft cabin real estate is known as the most expensive in the world so Air New Zealand must get the balance right – delivering what passengers are prepared to pay for and getting enough seats in to make them pay.

The airline is also making modifications to its business premier seats, making storage more convenient, which will be rolled out this year. More significant work is under way.

It is also close to finalising the complete overhaul of seats as a result of research and development at its Hangar 22 test bed.

The work is well advanced and will be fitted into its new Dreamliners – the stretched 787-10 – when they start arriving in 2022. The introduction of new crew uniforms has been delayed and won’t be seen until 2023 as part of a review of the airline’s visual identity.

This will influence the future look and feel of long-haul aircraft interiors, lounges, check-in experiences and digital presence. It had planned to introduce new uniforms for 4500 staff in 2021.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission

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