I flew 14 hours on a 'couch' — Here's whether Air New Zealand's Skycouch was worth it
- Air New Zealand offers an interesting option on long-haul economy flights where you can book the whole row and transform it to a Skycouch.
- The Skycouch costs less than business class or even premium economy but comes at an added charge over regular economy.
- If what you are after is the cheapest way to lay down and sleep on a long flight, the Skycouch may do just the trick.
As far as I'm concerned, the point of using miles to fly in business class on long international flights is to lie down and go to sleep.
Sure, the lounge access and upgraded food and drinks you typically get when flying business class are nice, but that's all ancillary to my main goal: arriving at my destination as rested as possible thanks to having a bed in the sky.
On my family's recent 14-hour flight from Auckland (AKL) to Houston (IAH) on Air New Zealand, my kids and I needed some way to lie down and get some sleep. Only this time we didn't have business-class tickets.
For this flight, we tried something different: Air New Zealand's Skycouch.
Here's what it was like to fly in the Air New Zealand Skycouch and whether it can hold a pillow to the comfort and rest found in a true business class seat.
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What is the Air New Zealand Skycouch?
The Air New Zealand Skycouch was first launched in 2011, so it's not brand-new, but since none of the U.S. airlines utilize this style of seat, it's still a pretty foreign concept for many North America-based travelers.
The Skycouch is located in some of the first few rows of Air New Zealand's economy section in the three seats closest to the windows on each side of the airline's Boeing 777s and 787-9s.
While the Skycouch rows appear like regular economy rows at first glance once onboard, they have some serious benefits over traditional economy fixtures. First, when booking a Skycouch, no one other than your party will be seated in that row of three. Your seating group can have anywhere from one to three people in the Skycouch row.
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The Skycouch seats also have a special footrest that can be flipped up halfway to relax with your feet up a bit in the seated position or put all the way up to a 90-degree angle to transform the three seats into a lie-flat bed ... or couch, if you will.
When transformed into the "couch," the area measures 5 feet, 1-inch long from armrest to armrest, and 29 inches wide from the seatback to the row of seats in front. That may be smaller than your couch at home, but it was long enough for my 5 foot 7-inch self to comfortably curl up. Included with the Skycouch row were two full-size pillows, three small pillows, three blankets, and a thicker blanket that was more like a comforter that could double as a mattress pad (or cocoon) if you wanted.
How much does the Skycouch cost?
To book the Air New Zealand Skycouch, you first select economy tickets and then, if available, the Skycouch will be an option on the seat selection page. The exact additional cost to select the Skycouch row varies by date, route and number of people. In some test bookings from Houston to Auckland, going from a regular economy row for three passengers to the Skycouch row adds a total of $200 one-way.
However, that cost goes up the fewer passengers you have. For example, the cost for just one person to go from having one seat to a full three-seat Skycouch (and thus, the whole row) on that same one-way flight adds a total of $1,160, while the cost for two passengers, which had already occupied two seats only adds a total of $560.
But those prices vary. When looking at a flight from New York-JFK to Auckland a month out, the added cost to book Skycouch for one passenger one-way is just $605. That's about $450 less than the cost to move to premium economy (which does not recline to a lie-flat position) on the same flight and over $3,800 less than the cost of a lie-flat business-class seat.
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What other perks does Booking the Air New Zealand Skycouch come with?
The short answer: None.
Unlike with business class or even premium economy, there are no so-called "soft" perks of booking the Air New Zealand Skycouch (other than the extra pillows and blankets). There's no early boarding, upgraded meals or lounge access included with the Skycouch.
For what it's worth, I found Air New Zealand's economy meals and beverages, such as New Zealand wines, to be more than fine.
If you have a Priority Pass membership (included with many travel rewards credit cards), you can access the Strata lounge in the Auckland airport regardless of which class of service you booked. If you have Star Alliance Gold status, you can board Air New Zealand flights early...not that you necessarily want extra time on board during an already long 14-hour flight.
How was it flying in the Air New Zealand Skycouch?
At the end of our family trip to New Zealand, my two kids and I booked two Skycouches for the over 7,000-mile flight home from Auckland to Houston. While three passengers can technically share one couch, that seemed like a recipe for no rest, and it turns out that would have been a correct guess.
The two kids (ages 13 and 7) shared one Skycouch row, while I had the one behind them to myself. Truthfully, even before it came time to transform the seats to a couch, not having to share a row with anyone else was a joy not often experienced with how full flights typically are these days.
A flight attendant came over shortly after boarding to orient us to the couch, ensure we read the card that had been placed on the seat that described how to use it and some safety rules about how to be strapped in while laying down, and to provide a seatbelt extension that could wrap around us when lying down during flight. Those with infants on their Skycouch would have received an extender to go around them, too.
Dinner service started about 45 minutes after our 7:35 p.m. departure from Auckland, and my 7-year-old's child menu dinner came out first, well ahead of the official meal cart containing most of the passengers' meals. Against all odds, as quite the picky eater, she loved everything from the pasta to the fruit and Canary Cheese -- from New Zealand, of course.
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I was not quite in the mood for the standard chicken or beef options, so I asked for a vegetarian meal if they had extra, even though I hadn't pre-ordered one, which was not a problem. While it certainly doesn't look appetizing in photos taken in a dimly lit cabin, the rice-based dish was delicious and perfect for filling up just enough early on in the long flight.
Shortly after dinner, it was time to put the Skycouch to the test.
Transforming the seat was easy with a push of a button, which first takes the footrest to an angled position and then another push of a button (and a slight tug up on the foot extension) to make it into a flat surface that extended the seat cushion.
I then arranged the pillows and blankets to make it bed-like.
I did the same for my two kids, who, after a brief round of watching two respective screens while lying down, both fell into a solid sleep for well over half of the flight. As you can likely tell, it was a snug fit for the two of them, but it worked.
As for me, I didn't have to share with anyone, and I found the couch to be a couple inches shorter than I would have ideally preferred, but by and large, I slept wonderfully and on par with the amount and quality of sleep I typically have in business class. In total, I would estimate I got between eight and nine hours of sleep on the flight.
It's somewhere between exceedingly hard and impossible to get a photo of myself lying down in the Skycouch, but perhaps this happy upright selfie will convey my feelings on the couch.
An hour or so before landing, we transformed the Skycouches back to regular seats and enjoyed a nice breakfast that was essentially pancakes with fruit.
Who should book the Air New Zealand Skycouch?
At least on our flight, the Skycouch section was overwhelmingly populated by families. Add to that the proximity to the bulkhead seats with the bassinets, and know that choosing a Skycouch increases the odds you will be seated around many children -- and yes, the babies did cry some during the overnight crossing.
But that's what noise-canceling headphones are for, so that's not a real deterrent as far as I'm concerned. However, it does answer the question of who should book a Skycouch. In my opinion, the Skycouch is best geared for those with kids who will fit in the couches and get better sleep due to being able to lie down.
Two kids or a parent with a toddler or young child could reasonably share one Skycouch, making it a more economical option than booking one Skycouch for each person. I don't think two adults could easily share one couch unless they are on the smaller side and very comfortable with being squished together in what, at the end of the day, is still an economy airline row that maxes out at just over five feet long.
If your budget allows, I'd absolutely recommend booking the Skycouch. I'd even prefer it over premium economy, myself, where you can't lie flat, and which typically costs much more than reserving a Skycouch. I'd give business class the slight edge thanks to all the extra amenities and higher-end service, as well as the fact that the passenger density in the business class cabin is lower, leading to fewer overnight distractions.
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Is the Air New Zealand Skycouch worth it?
Did we sleep significantly better on the flight than we would have in regular economy seats because of the Skycouch? Absolutely. Aside from brief moments awake, my kids slept virtually the entire night, something that would not have been true in traditional economy seats where you have to sit upright. And my own sleep total wasn't far behind them.
For us, it was worth the $1,393 upcharge on our three economy tickets to secure the two Skycouches for the second-longest flight we had ever been on. (The longest was the outbound flight from Houston to Sydney booked on miles in United's Polaris business-class cabin.)
Not only was the in-flight experience just so easy by virtue of the fact we could lie down and truly sleep, but we didn't spend any of the trip dreading having to sit up in an economy seat all night for the long journey home.
If you want a pampered experience with higher-end service, then the Skycouch will come up short for you as it is just a more comfortable economy experience. If you're tall, this might not be truly restful for you unless you are adept at curling up to sleep -- though not having seat neighbors for a long flight is a major perk in and of itself, even if you can't stretch fully out while lying down.
Assuming the fare was manageable, I would not hesitate to pay a premium for the Skycouch again and found it to be the just-right balance of price and comfort for my family flying ultra-long-haul across the Pacific.