Stretch Forth

Apex Experience Magazine Januari 2020
By Paul Sillers

Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch was conceived as a product for couples, but quickly morphed into a winning seating proposition for young families.

Since its entry into service in 2011, Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch – manufactured by Recaro Aircraft Seating – has garnered a string of awards, including a Crystal Cabin Award for Passenger Comfort; the UK’s Design Week Award for Best Furniture Design; and, most recently, an APEX Award for Best Product or Service for enhancements made to the product.

“The Skycouch is a row of three economy seats that fold out in a flat, flexible space for customers to stretch out, revolutionizing long-haul travel in economy,” says Anna Cross, Air New Zealand’s external communications manager. “The product is particularly popular with families, as it can offer space for two small children to lie down side by side or to use as a play area.” When the sidewall armrest is up, Skycouch measures 61 inches, and when the cushion and leg rest are combined, the approximate seat depth is 29 inches.

Located in the forward economy cabin of the airline’s Boeing 777 and 787-9 aircraft, Skycouch was initially marketed to couples, but when it found popularity among young families, “updates were made with them in mind,” Cross says.

In March last year, Air New Zealand added an infant harness, belt and pod to Skycouch, allowing infants to remain lying down during cruising, even when the seatbelt sign is on. And the Skycouch Cuddle Belt – previously only certified to allow two adults or an adult and child to lie downside by side – has been updated to accommodate two children.

The product isn’t just an asset for Air New Zealand – it has been licensed to other carriers operating on non-competing routes, such as French airline Air Austral, which installed the Skycouch on its 777-300ERs, and Brazil’s Azul, which installed a center quad-seat variant called Skysofa on its Airbus A330-200 fleet. Taiwan’s China Airlines, which dubbed it Family Couch, introduced the product on board its 777-300ERs and A350-900s. However, the airline stated last year it would cease the service, reportedly due to inconsistent demand.

Other airlines have also implemented economy seating products that fill the space between the edge of the seat cushion and the seatback of the row in front, creating either a shared seating space for families or sleeping quarters for an adult.

Short-lived Air France subsidiary airline Joon offered Cosy Joon, whereby part of the headrest could be detached to add seat depth – a customization of Geven’s Piuma Sofà. In another approach, Air Astana’s Economy Sleeper offers a partitioned section in the front of the economy cabin, using a row of three seats “transformed with a mattress layer and a luxurious duvet and pillow set, ensuring a sound night’s sleep.” And now-defunct UK leisure airline Thomas Cook marketed a Sleeper Seat – three economy-class seats augmented with a pillow and mattress – on its A330s, though this was for a single passenger, and the airline recommended only booking the seat if 5’11” or under.

Taller passengers may find the lie-down experience on Air New Zealand’s 61-inch Skycouch also falls short. Perhaps this is why the airline recently introduced Economy Stretch, featuring four more inches of legroom, on international wide- body flights – to give passengers sitting upright some extra wiggle room, too.