Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Air New Zealand offers couples beds in economy class

Air New Zealand planes
Air New Zealand has taken a novel approach to increased competition

Air New Zealand has unveiled what it calls the first major improvement in economy class travel comfort in 20 years - beds.

The beds are formed by foot-rests rising to the level of three adjacent seats. A blanket and loose normal-sized pillows complete the arrangement.

Passengers would need to buy the three seats together.

The passengers would also need to be ready to sleep together in small families or couples.

The airline's "Skycouch" follows a wildly successful safety campaign by the company in May 2009, which featured well-formed cabin staff wearing nothing but body paint.

Sleeping together

"For those who choose, the days of sitting in economy and yearning to lie down and sleep are gone," chief executive Rob Fyfe told reporters.

"The dream is now a reality, one that you can even share with a travelling companion - just keep your clothes on, thanks."

It's a very good initiative for an airline specialising in long-haul flights
Simon Calder
Travel journalist

Developed in-house by Air New Zealand (ANZ) designers and engineers, about a quarter of all long-haul economy seats will convert to Skycouches.

They will take up the first 11 rows in the economy cabin of the airline's new Boeing 777-300 planes.

Passengers will pay the standard economy fare for two seats and receive the middle seat for about half price.

Presuming it is a couple that buys the seat, the total amounts to about NZ$7,600 ($5,400, £3,335) for a return flight to London.

Single passengers in business class lie-flat seats pay nearly $7,140 for the London flight, and a single premium economy seat that does not recline to a bed costs nearly $4,300.

'Clever design'

Analysts expect the new seats to be popular.

Passengers will be tempted because of the extra comfort offered at a price that is still much less than beds in business or first class, said travel journalist Simon Calder.

"It's a very good initiative for an airline specialising in long-haul flights," he told the BBC.

Aviation analyst David Learmount said the ANZ beds would probably appeal to those who pay extra for premium economy, which offers bigger seats but no bed option.

"The clever bit is that, by just redesigning a seat, ANZ can offer whatever people want to buy. They will have to absorb the penalty of slightly heavier, more expensive seats, but the extra revenue should deal with that."

ANZ could even look at making some money by licensing their design, Mr Calder said.

Air New Zealand was facing bankruptcy in 2001 but was rescued by a deal in which the government bought back 75% of the company - one of the country's re-nationalisations of formerly privatised enterprises.

The seats go on sale in April and will gradually be introduced on the 340-seat 777-300s from the end of this year flying between Auckland and London via Los Angeles.

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