Air New Zealand has long had sleep on its company brain, coming up with creative solutions to help its passengers find a sense of calm and peace on ultra-long-haul flights (up to 18 hours from the United States). The Auckland-based flag carrier first came up with the Skycouch—three side-by-side economy seats with footrests that pull up to form a “couch”—in 2011, changing the travel game for families with young children (or solo travelers who simply wanted to pay for more space).
Today, Air New Zealand introduces its latest innovation: the world’s first lie-flat sleep pods in economy, or the Skynest, set to debut on the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners in 2024. Looking not so different from the bunk-style beds that flight attendants use on longer flights (or rooms in pod hotels), the six Skynest beds allow you to recline nearly the entire flight. (You still have to book a regular seat to ensure your safety during takeoff, landing, or in times of turbulence.)
The prototype was first unveiled back in 2020, around the time a new Auckland–New York direct flight was meant to debut. Due to border closures during the pandemic, both were bumped back; the New York nonstop—a nearly 18-hour flight—is now set to launch September 17, followed by a Chicago–Auckland route in October.
It took five years—or 170,000 hours at Boeing and Air New Zealand—to design these so-called nests, inspired by one of New Zealand’s native birds, the tūī, with sustainable materials like fabric instead of leather, and softer cushions, NASA cooling pillows, and bedding. Air New Zealand is also phasing out 28 million plastic dishes from its yearly inflight economy meal service to improve its carbon emissions.
Though many companies pay sustainability lip service (it’s not just about plastic straws, folks), Air New Zealand is taking these changes to heart. It has an almost entirely local crew with a company culture that abides by the “Tiaki Promise, a commitment to care for New Zealand, to act as a guardian, protecting and preserving our home.” The promise comes through in its messaging, in a statement travelers are asked to sign before arrival, even in its safety video.
“We want to create the world’s best flying experience,” Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran told me in a recent interview. It extends from the in-flight experience to the efficiency of the app—and, of course, how well you sleep on that long-haul flight.
“Research shows us the first night away from home is the hardest to get a good night’s sleep, so everything we do onboard is to help create a sense of calm—from the lighting and sleep ritual including sleepy teas and balms, to the healthier food choices and breathable fabrics,” chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said in a statement. “Meditative onscreen content, Zentertainment, will also help customers unwind and get ready for rest.”
Economy isn’t the only part of the aircraft getting some love from Air New Zealand. These are the cabin categories for the new and retrofitted Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners joining the Air New Zealand fleet in 2024:
- Business Premier Luxe: Sleeping quarters with a door that fully closes and space for two to dine
- Business Premier: A “private nest” for long-haul travelers. Passengers flying together can open their nest and share their space.
- Premium Economy: According to Air New Zealand, this seat option allows for “more privacy and protected space where you can recline at leisure without interrupting the person behind.”
- Economy Skynest: Lie-flat sleep pods available to economy travelers
- Economy Skycouch: This option hasn’t gone away.
- Economy Stretch: A roomier economy seat
- Economy seat: Even the standard economy seat is getting a bit of an upgrade with added storage, space, and a larger seatback screen (which you will be able to pair to your device via Bluetooth).
The aircraft will also feature a Sky Pantry, where economy fliers can stretch and grab a snack or drink at their leisure.
Let it be known I’ve gotten eight straight hours of sleep on an Air New Zealand flight from Houston to Auckland—though I am a sleep-deprived parent of toddlers. Test it yourself when the Skynest debuts; pricing is still to be determined.