One unique option offered by Air New Zealand is the SkyCouch, an option where economy passengers can buy adjacent seats for extra space on long haul flights aimed at giving families and couples to stretch out.
By luck, I got the opportunity of doing an impromptu review of the Skycouch on the 12 hour NZ7 route between San Francisco and Auckland where I had an entire economy row to myself.
The service is the standard Air New Zealand economy service and, while it’s friendly, the cabin crew can be a bit slow with drinks, I suspect this because of the number of attendants in Premium Economy and it’s a problem when you like to keep hydrated on a long flight.
Given Air New Zealand don’t use the middle galley on there 777-300 services, it may be easier for crew and passengers if some soft drinks, water and snacks were left out during the flight.
The notable difference with the Skycouch services is the set of three extension belts, one cutely named the ‘cuddle belt’ given out before takeoff. The cuddle belt itself connects to a loop under the seat in front, this lets passengers lie flat across the three or four seats.
Once set up, families or couples can buckle up across a row and don’t need to return to the seated position if there’s turbulence. If you’re using a blanket a it’s best to have the straps over the top as the crew will wake you if they can’t see you’re stapped in.
While it’s great to be able to lie down and stretch out in economy, there are some downsides to be aware of before paying the extra for a Skycouch.
Unlike business class, the seats aren’t designed for lying on. As consequence the contours mean the lie flat is a bumpy experience while climbing in and out of the row is awkward. I managed to tangle myself up twice in my headset cord.
Another complication are the seat buckles, again these aren’t designed for people lying over them so they can get uncomfortable, organising them so they don’t dig int requires looping them over the armrest so they are out of the way.
Probably the biggest drawback is for someone of six foot, the three seats mean sleeping with legs folded. Having them hanging out into the aisle is a safety risk and will almost certainly result in a painful accident with a fellow passenger, cabin attendant or catering trolley. I found over time by back started to hurt.
Lying flat though did work, I got six hours solid sleep however I suspect that given the legroom on Air New Zealand economy is adequate I may have slept almost as well sitting.
For families, couples and even pairs of budget conscious business travellers the Skycouch is a good buy offering extra space to spread out and use. For those with the dubious blessing of travelling with small children the added utility could be a sanity saver.
For those wanting a lie flat bed at a price considerably less than a business class ticket, this probably won’t work. If that’s your intention it’s probably better to save the money and use the savings to travel a day early and book a nice hotel on arrival.