Air New Zealand operates the world's 4th longest flight between New York and Auckland at over 8,800 miles.
The carrier uses a Boeing 787-9 with three classes, including business, premium economy, and regular economy.
I flew in the airline's unique economy Skycouch product to New York — here's what it was like.
Air New Zealand recently launched the world's new 4th longest flight, journeying 16 hours from Auckland to New York, and a whopping 17 and a half hours back.
The country recently reopened its borders to tourists after over two years of strict COVID-19 restrictions, and travelers are eager to enjoy New Zealand's beautiful rolling hills and volcanoes.
I flew over on the inaugural flight to Auckland on Sept 17 in business class, which was a great experience.
The food was delicious and the Boeing 787-9s lay-flat bed was spacious and comfortable, making the over 17-hour journey pass quickly.
After a week of bleisure time — the popular term for business and leisure — in New Zealand, including exploring the famous Hobbiton movie set and going on a walking tour around the city, it was time to head home.
For my return flight, I booked the one-of-a-kind Skycouch offered in ANZ's economy class.
Because the country is uniquely isolated in the South Pacific, the carrier flies a large network of long-haul flights. So, it has been coming up with outside-the-box products to make the journeys more bearable for passengers.
Many carriers, like Singapore Airlines and United Airlines, have focused on improving their premium economy product. These seats typically have more padding and a legrest, making sleep easier than in regular economy.
However, ANZ has gone in a different direction. Instead, the carrier has the Skycouch, which is a row of three economy seats that convert into a bed that people can fully lie down on.
The Skycouch was introduced in 2011 to much fanfare and has since been adopted by other carriers, like Azul Brazilian Airlines and China Southern Airlines.
ANZ also recently announced the addition of another lay-down economy product — the Skynest. Like the Skycouch, the bunk-beds will be for economy passengers.
For those that book the Skycouch, the fee is added on top of the fare for the ticket. Solo passengers will typically pay a higher fee to book the Skycouch, but will not share with a stranger. Parties of three can bundle two Skycouches or one with an extra seat.
For example, a roundtrip flight from New York to Auckland in February 2023 in the Skycouch is $3,812 for one person. Premium economy on the same trip is $4,278, while business is $11,951.
Source: Air New Zealand
I've been excited to try ANZ's Skycouch since its launch over a decade ago, and I finally got to. Here's what my experience was like.
I arrived at Auckland International Airport at 3:15 for my 6:40 PM flight. To my surprise, there were no priority check-in options for Skycouch passengers, only for business class or premium economy.
Fortunately, passengers that do not have checked luggage can opt to check-in quickly on ANZ's mobile app, at the ticket counter, or at a kiosk.
Auckland had a large area with dozens of kiosks available in its international terminal, making it easy to get a boarding pass and head to security.
For those with checked luggage, Skycouch passengers will need to wait in the economy lanes to drop them off. The lines were short before my Saturday evening flight, but will likely get busier as New Zealand soon gets into its summer season, so budget extra time.
With my boarding pass and passport in hand, I passed security and walked to my gate. The process took about 30 minutes from curb to gate.
Unfortunately, we were delayed about 40 minutes due to a late inbound flight, an ANZ customer service agent told Insider. However, we made up time in the sky and still landed on schedule at 6:45 PM EST.
While I was in the Skycouch, it did not come with priority boarding. I was assigned row 38ABC, meaning I actually boarded in the last group because business class, premium economy, and rows 41-61 were boarded first.
My boarding pass indicated my seat was specifically 38C. If you're flying in the Skycouch solo or as a pair and see specific seats on your boarding pass, don't be confused, you still have the row to yourself.
Once onboard the Boeing 787-9, I was quick to my seat as row 38 is right behind premium economy, which I was happy to bypass for an actual bed. In total, there are 13 Skycouch rows.
Approaching the row, I immediately noticed a few things. First, the headrests had signs saying "reserved" in big letters, likely to deter regular economy passengers from unknowingly moving to a Skycouch seat.
I also saw three sets of pillows and blankets, so I had plenty of linens to keep me comfortable. However, the pillows were a little flimsy.
Fortunately, I was also provided with fluffier pillows and a mattress topper. Combining the topper, five pillows, and three blankets, I was perfectly set up for a warm and cozy ride. And, as someone who prefers sleeping with two pillows, I was thrilled.
Aside from all the extras that come with the Skycouch, the economy product itself had the regular bells and whistles of a standard seat, including a tray table…
…a seatback screen, which you could also order food and drinks from enroute…
…power outlets under the seat in front…
…USB ports in the seatback screen…
…an adjustable headrest…
…a window dimmer…
…and plenty of legroom. At 5'3" and on the smaller side, I had plenty of space, and with 33 inches of pitch, even taller passengers should feel comfortable.
Looking to my right, non-Skycouch rows have less legroom, which offer 31 inches of pitch, per SeatGuru.
The space is actually on par with competitors like American Airlines, though after trying the Skycouch, it's going to be hard to go back to a regular economy seat.
Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendant came by and gave me two special seatbelts, including a "cuddle belt" and an "adult loop belt."
The "cuddle belt" kept me strapped in during turbulence when laying down…
…while the "adult loop belt" acted as an extender so I could move around the couch when not sleeping instead of being locked in one seat.
While I was given the option to put the Skycouch up right after takeoff, I decided to wait until after the dinner service. I did prop the legrest up to get comfortable though.
Dinner options included chicken or lamb, and since I rarely see any other options except chicken on flights, I had to go with the lamb.
The meal also came with bamboo utensils and several sides, including potatoes, peas, cheese, rice wagers, a roll and butter, a salad, a small chocolate bar, and a brownie.
There were several drink options, like beer, wine, spirits, water, soda, coffee, tea, and juice. I opted for a beer and water and stowed it on the tray table next to me, which was another perk of having a row to myself.
I thought the lamb was tasty, and the sides were filling, though overall it was not the best food I've had in economy. I'd rate it as just fine and as expected for the cabin.
After dinner, I wanted to get some work done, so I decided to put the Skycouch up and get settled. There are two buttons in the armrest — one to prop the legrest and a second for the recline.
According to ANZ, the couch is 5'1" long and 29 inches wide. All of the armrests come up, meaning there were no obstructions.
Source: Air New Zealand
At just 5'3," the bed was perfect for me. I could stretch my legs fully corner-to-corner, and I didn't feel like a sardine crushed in a can. However, I can imagine two grown adults sharing the space could get cramped, which is why I guess they call it the “cuddle belt.”
Moreover, taller passengers would probably have to curl up pretty tight to keep their feet from extending into the aisle. One of the flight attendants told me that three adults or two adults with an older child have less of a lay-flat experience in the row.
The woman behind me actually had a young daughter and teenage son with her, but echoed the crew, saying they couldn't all lie down. But, she liked being able to sit criss-cross, though said she's okay not having the Skycouch on her return flight.
Despite the issues, the flight attendant said she's had almost 100% positive feedback from all customers who've booked the row. She told Insider she thinks the Skycouch is a good solution for passengers without adding too much extra work for the crew.
The seat is versatile though. You can choose to put any legrest up or down, meaning you could create one recliner, or make a smaller bed with two legrests up for a child or smaller adult to sleep. This allows one person to stay seated if they prefer.
I will note that before you go through the trouble of setting up the bed, make sure you get everything you need from under the seat out first. If the bed is up, they're hard to get to.
Once the bed was set up, I put my computer on my lap and leaned against the fuselage wall. The setup was comfortable, and I was able to tap into the free inflight WiFi.
After getting some work done, I finally got ready to sleep. At first, I was a little worried the seats would be hard, but the mattress pad helped cushion the bed.
However, I found that I was only able to get comfortable by facing the seatback screens or laying on my back.
The bed was too short to lay on my stomach, and facing the other way was difficult because the row in front reclined, so I was leaning against a slant and that position was just not ideal for sleep.
Nevertheless, I can sleep on my back or side easily, so the Skycouch was overall very cozy and I slept about eight hours.
My only other complaint is the slight lack of privacy. The middle rows could peer into my space, though it was dark, and the flight attendants instructed us to sleep with our heads towards to window, which helped.
About 2 hours before landing, the crew served breakfast. We were given an option of eggs, chicken sausage, and baked beans, or cinnamon hotcakes. Each came with fruit, a roll, and a drink.
As I'm not a fan of cinnamon, I went with the eggs, sausage, and beans, which were pretty good, though the eggs were just alright.
After breakfast, I headed to the lavatory, which was small but big enough for me to change clothes after the long journey. There was also a baby changing table and pretty wallpaper.
For landing, I had to put the Skycouch back in its regular position and say goodbye to what was the best long-haul economy sleep experience of my life.
While it's no business class, and you don't get the fancy meals or silverware, the Skycouch offers exactly what many passengers want and need on extremely long flights — a comfortable sleep.
I'll admit the bed isn't perfect and could be a pain for stomach-sleepers, but I think the simple and comfortable row is a game-changer for long-haul travel. Though, it's really ideal for one or two people.
I would recommend the Skycouch to those willing to spend the extra buck as it's a great alternative to business, and honestly better than competing premium economy products I've flown on.
Read the original article on Business Insider