Air New Zealand this week filed patent and trademark applications for a newly developed prototype of a lie-flat sleeping pod designed for economy-class travelers.
The Economy Skynest, as it’s called, emerged after three years of research and development and with the input of more than 200 customers. It’s a contained “room” of sorts that consists of six, 6.5-foot-long sleeping pods, three on each side stacked atop one another in a bunk-bed style.
“A clear pain point for economy travelers on long-haul flights is the inability to stretch out. The development of the Skynest is a direct response to that challenge,” Air New Zealand chief marketing and customer officer Mike Tod said in a statement.
When Air New Zealand’s new nonstop flight between Auckland and New York begins service in October, it will cover 8,810 miles and will be Air New Zealand’s longest flight—and the fifth longest flight in the world. The eastbound flight will take 15 hours and 40 minutes, and the westbound will take 17 hours and 40 minutes.
The carrier said that it will make a final decision on whether to go forward with implementing the Economy Skynest in 2021 after it has assessed the performance of the first year of the Auckland–New York route.
If it is implemented, economy-class customers on long-haul flights would be able to book a spot in the Economy Skynest sleep pods in addition to their economy seat—though Air New Zealand has not yet elaborated on how that process would work or how many sleep pods would ultimately be available on each flight. The carrier said that it envisions a system where economy passengers would be able to book a “session” in the Economy Skynest, but has not yet determined how long the sessions would be and how much they would cost.
How the Economy Skynest would be positioned within the aircraft is also yet to be determined. The 6.5-foot-long sleep pods measure 2 feet in width and will be outfitted with a full-sized pillow, sheets and blanket, earplugs, privacy curtains, and lighting conducive to sleep, according to the carrier. “We are exploring other features such as separate reading light, personal device USB outlet, and ventilation outlet,” Air New Zealand said in a statement.
Despite the unknowns, the carrier referred to the sleep pods as a potential “game changer” for the airline industry, and they could significantly improve the long-haul flying experience. If the product gets the green light from regulators, the airline said it will explore the option of other airlines being able to license the Economy Skynest from Air New Zealand, which is something it has done with its popular Economy Skycouch seats—economy seats that have an additional footrest that folds to form a wider couch-like sitting area.
The Economy Skynest is not the first time the airline industry has looked into the possibility of developing beds for economy fliers. Last year, Airbus and French aerospace company Safran won a Crystal Cabin Award for their “Lower Deck Pax Experience,” another prototype that would transform a part of the cargo hold into a work space, kids’ playroom, and bunk beds for economy passengers.
There is a chance, it would appear, for better sleep in economy in the (hopefully) not too distant future.