Let’s face it – long haul international flights are a drag. Sure, it might be exciting that you’re heading away on holiday or off to visit family and friends, but once the meal has been served and the initial euphoria of being able to “catch up on all those movies I never got around to seeing” has worn off, the prospect of long hours jammed into that same tiny seat just makes you shudder.
So when faced with the reality of an 11hr 40min flight from Auckland to Buenos Aires recently, the first question we asked ourselves was – what upgrade options are available!
Air New Zealand is one of a small but growing collection of airlines that offer a Premium Economy section – designed to slot somewhere between the luxurious excesses of business class and the bum-numbing battery farm of economy class. By all accounts Air New Zealand’s premium economy ranks extremely highly amongst their peers (http://www.worldairlineawards.com/Awards/best_premium_economy_class_airlines.html), And having flown Air NZ premium economy to and from the USA in 2012 we can certainly recommend it as a fantastic option for those prepared to pay for a little more comfort without having to take out a 2nd mortgage to get into Business Class.
However, without going in to too much detail, in their older aircraft (their Boeing 777-200 fleet in particular) the premium economy seats have yet to be upgraded to the full premium package that is offered in their newer planes. So once we had established that it was indeed an older aircraft flying our Auckland-Buenos Aires leg then we quickly decided that in this case the premium economy upgrade cost was not worth the $$$.
This was where the “Skycouch” option came in. This is a concept that is (so far) completely unique to Air New Zealand, and the basic idea is that you take 3 adjoining standard economy class seats and by using enhanced footrests that rise up to be completely flush with the level of the seats you convert the entire space into a lie flat bed, or a 'couch in the sky' (see what they did there). I think this video might explain the concept better than I can:
When travelling as a couple (which along with families is what the concept is aimed at) you are essentially purchasing the 3rd seat to guarantee you the whole row – but the price you pay for the 3rd seat is discounted to roughly 75-80% of the full price, depending on your destination.
The concept sounds great right? A lie-flat bed for not much more than an economy seat? The possibility of actual sleep (not just uncomfortable dozing) on a long haul flight? Yes please!
The reality? With an effective total length of only 155cm (5ft 1in), unless you are a very short adult, you’re not going to be able to stretch out fully. And unfortunately the width of the couch is really not sufficient for two normal adults to lie shoulder to shoulder. The only effective sleeping position is a very cosy spooning arrangement but even that is a tight squeeze. Also, the additional blanket, pillows and seatbelts they give you actually just create more clutter in what is already a cluttered space. It's also important to remember that you still get the economy class service - there is no glass of champagne waiting for you as soon you board like the seats further up the plane...
The big bonus of course was having the 3rd seat free. Particularly in our case when you have a window-lover and an aisle-craver as invariably one of the two parties has to compromise and get stuck with the dreaded middle seat…
So whilst the configuration does give you more flexibility with your seating and/or sleeping arrangements, and having the 3rd seat was definitely a plus, it’s not the solution we had (possibly naively) hoped it might be. Furthermore, our flight was not particularly full so we would probably have had the 3rd seat free anyway (of course this is not likely to be the case on every single flight – for Air NZ’s sake I certainly hope not!).
The bottom line
Would we book the Skycouch again? It’s a tough question to answer as our upcoming travels are not likely to see us being able to fly with Air NZ for a while. The concept potentially has more merit when travelling with kids as they are more likely to be able to make better use of the space. We’re certainly glad we took the opportunity to try it out, and as parochial Kiwi’s we’re extremely proud of Air NZ’s position as a leader and an innovator that has led them to creating this solution.
The bottom line is that we’re probably going to have to sit on the fence on this one and say that depending on your budget and your travel requirements, this certainly could be a great option to get a little extra room and possibly make that long haul flight in economy just a little more bearable, without having to make the price leap to premium economy or business class.
If you've had any experience with Air NZ's Economy Skycouch feel free to leave a comment below - we'd love to hear your thoughts!
Disclaimer - All opinions are our own and not representative of or endorsed by the suppliers of these products.