Are triple-stacked bunk beds the next evolution of the coach cabin? Air New Zealand thinks they might be exactly what customers are looking for on ultra-long-haul flights.
The airline has developed a set of triple-stacked, lie-flat sleep pods it calls the Economy Skynest. Passengers flying coach could buy time in one of the sleeper berths to stretch out and take a nap during a long international flight.
"We see a future flying experience where an economy-class customer on long-haul flights would be able to book the Economy Skynest in addition to their Economy seat, get some quality rest and arrive at their destination ready to go," Nikki Goodman, Air New Zealand's general manager of customer experience, said in a release announcing the triple bunk prototype.
For years, airlines have had lie-flat beds in first and business class. Those seats, which can easily recline into beds, typically sell for four or five times more than a coach seat. In recent years, airlines have introduced a middle tier of seats called premium economy. Those seats, which have more space and recline further than those in coach are priced between business and economy class.
So how many economy class passengers on international flights would be willing to rent a sleep pod for a few hours?
"It all comes down to price," said airline analyst Seth Kaplan of Kaplan Research. "Most people in coach care mainly about the cost of their ticket. They may not like sitting in economy for several hours, but they do it because of the lower price."
Kaplan applauds Air New Zealand for looking into new ways to use the space in a plane, but he is skeptical the Economy Skynest will ever succeed.
"The airline business is a real estate business. Air New Zealand will have to ask itself if those beds will bring in more money than economy or premium seats in the same space," said Kaplan.
Air New Zealand will decide next year whether to put the Skynest in planes. "We're not afraid of being bold and trying new things," Kerry Reeves, Air New Zealand's head of airline programs, said in a statement. "The question is never, 'Can we do this,' but instead, 'Is it right to do this for our customers?' and, if so, 'How will we do this?'"