Economy flights practically guarantee a stiff neck, a child kicking the back of your seat, and vying with your fellow passenger to claim the center seat’s armrests.
One airline wants to cure these travel ills: Air New Zealand recently announced the world’s first lay-flat “pods” for economy class planes, which will debut in 2024. Dubbed “Skynest”, the concept has been in research and development for five years and is likely to feature two rows of three stacked bunks for a total of six full-length sleeping cabins. The beds will be installed on Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and will coexist with the regular seating areas.
The sleeping capsules may be needed: This fall, Air New Zealand is organizing its first nonstop flight from Auckland to John K. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The approximately 17-hour flight will be one of the world’s longest regularly scheduled passenger flights, and Skynest’s eventual rollout could be a perfect fit.
But the pods — including cooling pads and vents — probably won’t come cheap. Prices are not yet known, but Air New Zealand says that four hours of access to a sleep pod will cost an extra fee on top of your economy ticket.
“The airline has done quite a bit of research into sleep cycles,” an Air New Zealand spokesperson told CNN Travel last week. “A typical sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, so a four-hour session gives clients the opportunity to relax, fall asleep, and wake up.”
Bed linen will be changed and the pods will be cleaned for 30 minutes between each session, the airline said.
When Air New Zealand initially announced the concept in 2020, transportation analyst Seth Kaplan told CNBC he was skeptical that economy passengers would jump in line to try it. People who pay the lowest possible ticket fare probably aren’t interested in ticket add-ons, especially when the pods take up much of each plane’s already limited space, he said.
“The aviation industry is a real estate business,” Kaplan said. “Air New Zealand will have to consider whether those beds bring in more money than economy or premium seats in the same space.”
This isn’t Air New Zealand’s first attempt at helping economy travelers get a better night’s sleep. Passengers can already upgrade their coach seats to a “SkyCouch”, or coach seats with footrests that lift to create a bed-like space. That product is also licensed by China Airlines and Brazilian airline Azul.
The race to put real beds in economy class seems to have fewer participants. In 2018, Airbus said it partnered with aerospace design company Zodiac to put bunk beds in the cargo holds of planes, but there’s no mention of the concept currently on the Airbus site after that initial announcement.
Airbus did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.
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