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Opinion: Economy Needs Innovation, and Air New Zealand Continues to Excel
The core principle of the economy seat has remained the same for decades. While, yes, seats have begun to get tighter — both in terms of legroom and width — the seats themselves still hold the same general form and serve the same purpose.
Innovation has come, though it has been sparse. Air New Zealand introduced the Skycouch, a product that enables those who book a row of economy seats booked to extend the seats to fill the gap behind the row in front of them.
At the same time, Qatar Airways has talked at length since 2016 of creating a “revolutionary” economy class product, all while saying the airline does not plan to introduce premium economy because its economy class product is just as good. Those in the 10-abreast seats aboard the Boeing 777 might beg to differ.
But when the airline revealed its new seat in early 2019, it was more evolution than revolution. At the time OneMileAtATime reported that the carrier had drastically begun to scale back expectations, simply calling the seat “enhanced” by the time it was unveiled.
But Air New Zealand, which has shown itself to be a maverick in the field of economy class innovation, is again making headlines with a product it is calling the Skynest. The Skynest is a compartment to be placed somewhere in the economy class cabin that includes six bunk beds that are “in excess of 200 cm.” in length.
The idea of having a bed that is over 6 feet 6 inches in length is certainly alluring, and with six on each ultra-long-haul flight the airline operates, it’s almost certain the airline will be able to find enough customers to make it worth the space.
All of that, however, is contingent upon whether the airline can successfully find a price for the beds that will toe the line between making the sacrifice of seats worth it to the airline and not being priced prohibitively to where those who might want it would just book premium economy or business class.
Going forward, the airline also said it wants to license the product to other airlines, which would enable passengers to see and make use of the Economy Skycouch on flights spanning the globe. And if other airlines can execute the concept successfully, economy class passengers will be left with a wider array of options than ever before.
As the divide between economy and business class prices continues to widen in what has been a very lucrative stretch for airlines in countries all over, the customer experience in economy has largely been neglected. That’s why the few airlines that continue to place an emphasis on the economy class customer experience need to be recognized.
Will we ever see Air New Zealand’s Economy Skynest in the skies? Maybe — though it certainly won’t be until 2021 or beyond. Maybe not. But the airline continues to take risks with its innovation. And for one, I hope that is a practice that catches on far beyond just Air New Zealand.
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