By Jamie Freed
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Some economy-class travelers envying those at the front of the plane with lie-flat beds may soon have another option: Air New Zealand Ltd <AIR.NZ> has developed a sleeping pod prototype to help passengers cope with near-18 hour flights.
The Economy Skynest concept unveiled on Wednesday, which features six bunks akin to those in a train car or capsule hotel, would provide extra comfort for an added cost at a time when airlines are turning to longer flights because passengers are willing to pay for non-stop services.
But the airline, which plans to launch Auckland-New York flights in October, faces a stiff hurdle in not just making the economics of the new product work but in meeting regulatory requirements designed to help passengers survive a crash that have held back novel seating concepts in the past.
“Despite the pretty pictures, this is likely to be a lengthy and arduous certification process,” said David Flynn, the editor-in-chief of website Executive Traveller.
“There’s a certain appeal to these railway-style sleeping berths, although it’s highly unlikely that passengers could strap themselves into these bunks for take-off and landing,” he said.
Air New Zealand said economy passengers would book the Skynest in addition to their regular seat.
Rival Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX> considered but ultimately rejected an Airbus proposal to place bunks in the cargo hold on A350 planes to be used on the world’s longest-ever commercial flights from Sydney to London.
Air New Zealand said it would make a final decision on whether to introduce the Skynest next year after it had assessed the performance of the Auckland-New York route during its inaugural year.
The carrier’s head of airline programs Kerry Reeves said gaining certification of the product was a definite challenge, even when compared with its earlier innovations like the Economy Skycouch which allows a row of economy seats to be turned into a couch after take-off.
“But it was a prize worth chasing and one that we think has the potential to be a game changer for economy class travelers on all airlines around the world,” Reeves said in a statement.
(Reporting by Jamie Freed; editing by Richard Pullin)