The grapevine has been chatting for a while there would be major innovation in the on-board economy product on the carrier's new B777-300ERs, due to be delivered next year. Most rumours favoured the idea of sleeping bunks, but the seat bed idea is close enough.
Under the plan, Air NZ will offer economy customers the ability to purchase the seat next to them if it is not occupied. The two seats will then be able to form a bed.
What to do with empty seats is a potential revenue stream that has been overlooked in an industry that constantly tries to ensure every seat is filled but never (understandably) achieves that.
Last year Air NZ started a programme where on flights to the US passengers could pay an extra $75 and guarantee the seat next to them would be empty. According to one report, up to 10 passengers on each flight would select the option. (There are approximately 240 seats on an Air NZ B777-200.)
I would be curious to know what the cost is of flying an empty seat in Air NZ's case. With no meal to feed it and no fuel to carry the person and his/her luggage, could Air NZ make a greater profit with a passenger in that seat or with someone paying $75 for the seat to be empty?
Any bean counters willing to crunch some numbers?
Air NZ has released this statement from General Manager International Airline Ed Sims.
The current speculation about Air New Zealand launching a lie flat economy class bed is misleading. While improving personal space and allowing our Economy passengers to sleep flat remains our Holy Grail we are still in the middle of a research and development process to deliver the world's best long-haul travel. Our design and prototyping that involves more than 20 options has some months to go and only five or six of these options might fly.
Our break through thinking will not be limited to seat design. We've had some of the best technical, engineering, research and customer service brains in Air New Zealand, and from around the world, working on a range of ground breaking products. We're also redesigning our aircraft livery, our uniform and a whole range of other products that will change the way our customers fly.
The most significant innovations will be revealed with the launch of our new long-haul product for our new Boeing 777-300ERs, which start arriving in late 2010.