Thursday, 22 April 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 12: Air New Zealand's Skycouch

"Eh-crayft … eh-crayft … not set-ees-fyyed … eh-crayft," were the words coming from Eh No Zillun's (that's probably Air New Zealand, to you) chief executive officer Rob Fyfe during a recent press conference in Auckland, and it appeared that communication was taking place in the room, but we weren't part of it. The language may well have been isiXhosa.  

Oh! Aircraft! Not satisfied! Not satisfied with what Boeing had on offer for Air New Zealand's soon-to-be-delivered 777-300ERs! We finally understood.

Not being satisfied with the prêt-à-porter seating offerings from Boeing and its suppliers, Air New Zealand developed a bespoke Economy Class seat and with it, the Economy Class Skycouch.

"The seats themselves are our Economy seats with armrests that disappear into the back of the seat. There’s also a cup holder, a trinket tray, a winged headrest and a sleep pillow on every seat. What makes the Skycouch different to other Economy seats is the way the trio of seats transform," Air New Zealand's website explains.

"With a touch of a button, a footrest will come out from under each of the three seats which you can pull up to create a flat, flexible space for you to use however you like."

“For those who choose, the days of sitting in economy and yearning to lie down and sleep are gone,’’ Fyfe said in a statement. “The dream is now a reality, one that you can even share with a travelling companion—just keep your clothes on.”

Air New Zealand recognized that its customers are largely leisure travelers, often on overnight long-hauls, so creating an onboard environment conducive to sleep became their highest inflight service priority. Three years on, horizontal seating hardware—to now a bragging right reserved for the plutocracy—in all three service classes has been the result of their toil.

Business Premier, Air New Zealand's business class, remains largely unchanged through the airline's service upgrades and will continue to employ the same swish seat developed and licensed by Virgin Atlantic that converts to a 6' 7.5" bed.

In its updated Premium Economy Class, a class somewhere between YMCA and country club, passengers will enjoy seats and services approaching the standards of the last decade's business classes. Arranged in pairs, the middle column of seats swivel towards one another and a shared dining table/expansive armrest. And while Premium Economy doesn't feature leg-rests, it does feature a charming beanbag chap named Otto who "would like to be an ottoman but [he] isn't quite." Otto and his clones will not even take to the air in earnest for another eight months, but Air New Zealand is already correctly conceding that they "anticipate that these will get stolen in huge numbers."

From December, 22 sets of the Skycouch will be available on Air New Zealand's flights between Auckland and Los Angeles. In 2011, Air New Zealand will introduce its new service concept in all classes on flights to London, whereafter the improvements will be introduced throughout the existing long-haul fleet, making it available to all of the airline’s Asian, North American and United Kingdom destinations by 2012.

Those that are acquainted with The Hawaiian Sybarite will be aware that we find Aotearoa continuously admirable. We find its candid-yet-intelligent informality refreshing, we find its egalitarianism and humanism reassuring and so we find it no coincidence that the first major innovation in economy class hardware since its invention is brought to us courtesy of New Zealand.

Exact pricing for the Skycouch has yet to be announced, but its intended demographics are families traveling with young children, who will be able to stretch out across the trio of seats that comprise each Skycouch, and couples who will purchase their own two seats and also the middle seat at a discount to occupy what Air New Zealand rather grostesquely refers to as its "Cuddle Class."

New Zealand's characteristic humanism was expressed by Air New Zealand's Rob Fyfe, when he identified "the pivotal point that took [Air New Zealand] in a different direction" as "the decision to be about flying people and not about flying planes."

A revolutionary concept, to judge his philosophy against the actions of his airline's competitors. Flying with an Asian airline can be pleasant enough if the social costs of Singapore Girl are ignored, and flying within Europe is often not altogether tortuous, but flying in North America is reminiscent of the worst days of Stalinism.

As for the state of aviation in our archipelagic kingdom, we at The Hawaiian Sybarite thank Mark Dunkerly for raising Hawaiian Airlines up from its bad old days to the solidly acceptable airline that it has become.

It is our advice to airline executives in Tokyo, Beijing, Seattle, Chicago, Fort Worth, Atlanta, Montréal, Copenhagen and Stockholm, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Madrid to visit Auckland and Air New Zealand, immediately, with a pen in your pocket, your company's checkbook in your attaché and your hat in your hands. Ask thoughtful questions, take fastidious notes, and then beg Air New Zealand to license their interior hardware to your airline.

Finally, to the aforementioned list of executives one is missing and must be added—that's you, Mr. Dunkerly. We offer our sincere thanks, but praise such as "acceptable" and "better" and "not as bad as it used to be" simply isn't good enough for us. You've done well, but you've got a long way to go—3814nm to be precise.

Air New Zealand is our preferred transport to New Zealand, Australia and other points in the South Pacific. Air New Zealand now flies from Honolulu to Auckland every Wednesday and Friday evening, with Monday departures added during the airline's summer timetable. Flights to Honolulu depart Auckland on Thursday and Saturday mornings, with additional Tuesday departures this summer.

All images © Air New Zealand Limited 

1 comment:

  1. I hope all airline companies start implementing this in the near future. I believe a New Zealand flight from HNL Intl is roughly 12 hours. I'm sure this fantastic invention makes it much more bearable. Thanks for sharing this.