Air New Zealand is jetting big time into the competition for passenger comfort – and increased revenue – on international long-haul flights to LAX.
Its entry: something called the “sky couch,” a three-seat configuration in economy class that allows two adults to lie flat. While such features are common in the business and first-class cabins of several airlines, they are unheard of in coach.
“It’s definitely a revolutionary idea,” said Jack Penning, a consultant with Sixel Consulting Group, an aviation consulting company in Eugene, Ore.
The service is aimed at customers who travel in pairs since travelers essentially have to buy additional seats to make the configuration work. The service also is being marketed to group travelers.
Air New Zealand expects that the seats will add a premium ranging from $1,800 to as little as $300 to the price of a round-trip economy ticket between Los Angeles and Auckland. Those tickets generally run between $1,200 and $1,500 depending on when they are bought.
The couches will make up 22 of the 244 spaces in the economy section of two new Boeing 777 jets the airline expects to put into service in April. The new aircraft will eventually carry passengers on daily flights between Los Angeles and two destinations: London and Auckland.
The upgraded 777 would appear to make the airline more competitive with Qantas Airway, the Australian airline that serves LAX with the Airbus A380, a cutting-edge double-deck jumbo jet that has set a new standard for luxury.
The Airbus features individualized suites, large dining tables, dresser units and convertible, fully flat beds with foam mattresses in its first-class cabins. There are adjustable headrests, cushioned armrests and netted leg supports in economy class but no beds.
Qantas uses the A380 on daily flights to Sydney and three flights a week to Melbourne. The airplane is not yet available on the airline’s Auckland flight from LAX.
Within four years, Air New Zealand’s entire fleet of 747s is expected to be replaced by 777s.
“This will change the way people fly,” said Kathryn Gregory, New Zealand’s director of marketing at its North American headquarters in El Segundo.
The airline hopes eventually to sell its proprietary sky couch design to other airlines. However, Penning said the concept would likely only work on less traveled international flights, such as those with destinations like Aukland.
“Those seats would be empty anyway so they can derive extra income from filling them up,” he said. “I’m not completely sold on the idea, especially on high-capacity routes; it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
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