PAT PILCHER wonders whether the newly announced Skynest bunk beds will eliminate the sardine effect for long-haul economy flyers.
After delivering a flurry of negative news, Air New Zealand is finally earning brownie points with Joe and Joanne public thanks to their Skynest economy bunk beds. But will they be any good?
The Skynest concept is tantalising. Imagine a pod with two lots of three bunk beds. The exciting bit is that the pods will be placed in the economy cabin. Long haul need not mean being stuck in agonisingly uncomfortable seats, squished in with strangers for longer than most people would deem healthy.
“Imagine a pod with two lots of three bunk beds”
As exciting as the Skynest concept seems, questions still outnumber the positives for now. We have yet to find out which aircraft will be equipped with them, how many there will be on each plane and crucially, how much they’ll cost. Early indications are that prices will be about the same as a premium economy seat. The airfares will involve the purchase of an economy seat and time in the SkyNest bought as part of your ticket, meaning that the pods will be a shared resource.
Amidst the flurry of media coverage, few media outlets mentioned that the Skynest idea is still only a concept. Air New Zealand still has no concrete plans to install them on any planes.
Any decisions around Skynest will be made next year after Air New Zealand has tested its longest route from Auckland to Newark, which goes live in October. It’ll be a brutally long flight, weighing in at a gruelling 17 hours and 40 minutes, hence the airline’s interest in lie-flat options for economy class.
“Those in the poor seats have had little to nothing change for close to a decade”
I’m wondering where the catch is given Air NZ’s proclivity for smoke and mirror marketing and tricky fine print. But regardless, the airline should be commended for doing something innovative with economy class.
Most airlines have put their efforts into their business and first-class in-flight seating, while those in the poor seats have had little to nothing change for close to a decade.
Upping their game in economy class means Air NZ could gain a compelling point of difference over other airlines. This could be huge, given economy is the class most people choose to fly.
As compelling as the Skynest concept seems, however, I still have questions.
“The Skynest bunks appear to be a timeshare option”
First, getting some time in a Skynest bunk could prove tricky. If there were only six per plane, and 246 people in the economy cabin of a 777, it’d be fair to assume the Skynest’s would be occupied for a long, long time. That’s also supposing they’re priced sensibly.
As the Skynest bunks appear to be a timeshare option, I also have questions around hygiene. A relative once caught scabies using a supposedly laundered airline blanket when flying back to NZ from Japan. The airline (not Air NZ) refused to compensate her, despite the discomfort caused. I wonder if similar issues could be possible with Skynest?
Secondly, while no pricing has been announced, the prevailing consensus is that the Skynest pods are likely to be priced at around premium economy prices. So then, why not just put them in the premium economy cabin too? Most of us would rather have a lie flat bunk than a slightly wider seat any time.
Thirdly, people fart a lot when flying. In-flight farts happen because the pressurised aircraft cabin causes gases to expand. This includes the gases inside our body, hence the propensity for more than normal numbers of bum burps. This might be fine when sitting in a seat, but when someone above or below you drops the tsar bomba of all farts, a bunk bed might not seem like such a fabulous bonus after all.
“When someone above or below you drops the tsar bomba of all farts, a bunk bed might not seem like such a fabulous bonus”
Then there’s personal space. When flying, I hate sitting in the middle or window seat, and always book an aisle seat. This is because climbing over people to get to the loo is not much fun. I might be completely wrong, but surely being in the middle bunk as people climb up and down in and out of their bunks will be just as annoying.
Lastly, looking at the photos of the Skynest pod, I wonder how you’d sit up or eat while in them without spilling much of your food over yourself. Perhaps Air NZ will offer a Skynest-only ticket like they already do with short and medium-haul flights?
None of these issues is a showstopper, and if I were flying long haul economy, I’d still look at one of these to make my journey semi-bearable.
But I can’t help but think that all the effort put into designing these might have been better spent elsewhere. For a start, I’d like to see Air NZ reviewing seat-only fares. They’re mean spirited and really should go. Other airlines offer airfares comparable to seat-only, but also provide food and inflight entertainment.
“Seat-only fares are… mean spirited and really should go”
Then there’s the ridiculous amount of economy seating in air NZ 777’s. They used to operate 9 economy class seats per row in 3x3x3 configuration in their 777’s, then they decided to wring out some extra cash by adding an extra seat for a 3x4x3, or 10 seats per row configuration. It’s horribly cramped and unpleasant for long haul flying. It’s also no accident that Air NZ crew have been overheard calling the 777’s “cripple 7’s”, so how about a less cramped Economy on your 777’s, Air NZ?
Lastly, but most significantly, Air NZ seems to be flying fewer long-haul routes that I want to go on. Late last year, they announced that they’re scrapping their London route. More recently they announced that because of the Coronavirus, they’re also suspending some Asian sectors. What’s the point with these pods if they don’t fly to any places I want to visit?