Why don’t more airlines use Skycouches on their planes?
Q Just before the coronavirus pandemic my sister and I flew on Air New Zealand from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, and tried the “Economy Skycouch”. It was great: three seats that convert into a flat bed. I see Air New Zealand no longer flies the route, and I wonder why other airlines don’t do the same?
A I haven’t tried the Skycouch but I have seen it, and it looks to be an imaginative and simple way to offer enhanced comfort. Effectively, some rows of three places have a specially designed footrest that can be raised to seat level. Here’s the sell from Air
New Zealand: “Imagine a row of economy seats that can change into a couch after take-off. Clever, right? Comfy, too. Use the Skycouch the way you want. Sit, spread out, or lie down and snooze. Share the space with a partner or children, or keep it all for yourself. It's a world first.”
The cost for the extra seat is typically about 50-75 per cent of the adult fare. That is a fair deal for the passengers – the empty seat does not incur tax and will not require to be fed and watered by the airline – and also for Air New Zealand, which can keep its load factors high.
So, an excellent concept. Why, then, is it not replicated by other airlines? I believe the reason is cost and flexibility. Air New Zealand has a longer average length of international flight than any other carrier because of its location; the newest link is a 17hour hop from Auckland to New York. Existing routes such as the US west coast are all above 12 hours, and when the east Asian network gets reestablished to Hong Kong and mainland China, those links will all be in double figures. In contrast, on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic average flight length is probably around eight hours. The investment required for, and the complex revenue management around, the Skycouch concept is probably seen as excessive – especially since many people are prepared to pay handsomely for premium economy. So I fear the three-seat trick will remain an Air New Zealand speciality, though I am always seeking lightly loaded flights with plenty of room to stretch out on one’s own.
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