April 21, 2024

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On Long Flights, Airlines Offer Couch Seating

5 min read

It’s a long-haul traveler’s dream: Tired and facing a flight of 10-plus hours in the back of the plane, you watch as, one by one, passengers walk by and no one sits next to you. The cabin doors close, and that’s when it hits you: You’ve got the row to yourself. Jackpot!

Now, some airlines are giving passengers the chance to pay for that form of traveler’s ecstasy, by offering a sleeper-seat option in the main cabin. The blueprints vary, but the basic concept is that passengers who book what is often called a sky couch get a whole row of seats for themselves. After takeoff, they can stretch out like a king, even in the heart of coach.

“No frills. No hot towels or Champagne,” said Dr. Amanda Meltzer, 44 and from Dallas, who has flown from the United States to New Zealand for work many times and often books Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch. “But you can sleep and avoid two weeks of horrendous jet lag when you get there. I honestly would never fly there again without it,” she said.

Some airlines keep the idea fairly rudimentary. On Lufthansa, either at check-in or at the gate — once it’s evident the flight is uncrowded enough to allow for it — you can book a Sleeper’s Row, where for around $200 you get what the company describes on its website as a “thin mattress plus a Business Class-quality blanket and pillow” to turn the row into a more comfortable mini-bed.

But the carriers that have really leaned into the couch idea — like Air New Zealand, Vietnam Airlines (Sky Sofa), Brazil’s Azul Airlines (SkySofa) and Kazakhstan’s Air Astana (Economy Sleeper) — are the ones that have fitted their aircraft with seats designed to be transformed.

On these, the leg rests can be raised up to the same height as the seats, creating a flat surface that extends nearly to the seatbacks in front. Do this to three or four seats in a row and it starts to resemble a twin bed.

In some cases, the airlines throw in bonuses: Air New Zealand provides kits with slim mattress pads, blankets and full-size pillows. Air Astana provides a similar kit, plus allows its Economy Sleeper passengers access to its airport’s business class lounge.

Air New Zealand has offered this feature for more than a decade, and it is now standard on all of its Boeing 777 and 787-9 aircraft. Other airlines at various times had sleeper seats, like China Airlines from 2014 to 2018 and the shuttered Thomas Cook Airlines, which declared bankruptcy in 2019. But only recently has a critical mass of carriers started to experiment with the couch layout.

Many ads for sleeper seats target parents with children and babies, with some picturing a mother and small child cuddling on a flat row of seats. Although Vietnam Airlines does not permit infants in their sleeper seats, Air New Zealand not only allows them, but also provides infant harnesses and bassinet boxes to protect them while sleeping.

Couples are also a target market, as they can sleep — albeit tightly — side by side. Air New Zealand’s couch option measures 61 inches long and 29 inches wide, which is shorter and narrower than a typical 75-by-38-inch twin mattress, but roomy compared with an economy seat. Air New Zealand also has special, longer seatbelts, but other airlines have you make do with the regular ones.

Passengers with some health issues might also find the couch layout especially appealing, to diminish the risk of blood clots forming in the legs, for example. The National Blood Clot Alliance recommends keeping feet elevated during a flight to prevent clots. Dr. Meltzer said after she had hip surgery in 2017 she “literally could not sit and the sky couch was a lifesaver.”

In 2024, Air New Zealand plans to introduce a supersize version of the economy lie-flat idea, when it begins offering what it calls the SkyNest, a set of triple-decker bunk beds.

The price varies by airline. On Vietnam Airlines, booking a couch costs about $500 on top of the cost of the ticket. On Azul Airlines and Air New Zealand, the fare is just as dynamic and demand-based as any other plane ticket and can be purchased when booking.

Of course, it’s always been possible to buy all three or four seats in a row, but if you want to spend that kind of money on a flight, you’re probably better off in business class. Under the current couch pricing models, in most cases booking the sleeper seat option will end up costing less than it would to pay for each seat individually.

For example, a single, one-way ticket from New York (J.F.K.) to Auckland on Air New Zealand currently costs $1,310 for a flight on June 1. Booking three seats individually would bring the total to $3,930. But booking the three-seater Skycouch costs just $1,915 total. A business class ticket for the same flight is $6,467. “Part of its appeal is that Skycouch can be an economical way to add a little luxury to Economy. You don’t pay the full price for all three seats, but you get the benefits,” said Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand’s chief customer and sales officer, in an email.

Julia Barrett, a 49-year-old resort receptionist, recently experienced the sky couch on a flight from Auckland to Honolulu. “After a solid seven-hour slumber I woke to see disheveled and bleary-eyed passengers all around me. I felt fully refreshed and recharged,” she said. “It was the best money I ever spent.”

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.

Shannon Sims

2023-04-12 09:00:23

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