Want to lie flat in economy class? This airline is making it possible

Madeline Merinuk

Sleeping on planes can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially in economy class. But thanks to a prototype in-flight bed, Air New Zealand is about to give some of its passengers a serious upgrade — without paying for first- or business-class airfare.

Yes, you read that correctly: The airline recently announced it will begin testing sleeping pods, called Economy Skynests, to some of its planes starting this October for flights between New York and Auckland, New Zealand. It's a welcome move for one of the longest flights in the world — 17 hours and 40 minutes, to be exact.

Air New Zealand plans to place six Skynests on each aircraft, which means that passengers will take turns using the pods, which are separate from their actual seats. Each bed is about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide and comes with a privacy curtain, blanket, sheets, pillow and seat belt in case of flight turbulence. While the airline hasn't yet figured out a specific location for the beds within the cabin, images show three of them stacked on top of one another — much like bunk beds built into a wall — with a matching set across from it.

Each Economy Skyrest has six sleeping pods. (Air New Zealand)

Mike Tod, Air New Zealand chief marketing and customer officer, said he hopes these pods put some magic back into flying, especially for long international flights. “A clear pain point for economy travelers on long-haul flights is the inability to stretch out. The development of the Skynest is a direct response to that challenge,” he said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time Air New Zealand has pushed for promoting better in-flight sleep: In 2018, the company released the Economy Skycouch, a row of three passenger seats that can convert into a single bed.

What does this mean for the airline industry? Nikki Goodman, general manager of customer service at Air New Zealand, said she believes this innovation will pave the way for other airlines to make improvements. “We expect other airlines will want to explore licensing the Economy Skynest from us just as they have with the Economy Skycouch,” she said in a statement.

Tracy Stewart, content editor at travel deal site airefarewatchdog.com, thinks the napping pods are great in theory but will be difficult to execute. "It’s not quite clear how such an arrangement would fit into existing cabin layouts without wasting valuable space," she told TODAY. She also wondered if it would put additional strain on the flight crew because of all of the work that would go into scheduling naps and replacing blankets, pillows and sheets. Stewart predicted that if any U.S. airline were going to follow suit, it would be JetBlue.

The exact date of Air New Zealand’s first flight with Skynests, as well as prices, are expected to be announced soon, according to Air New Zealand.