No parent looks forward to flying with a baby. These little bundles of joy get squirmy in your arms over the course of an hours-long flight. They don’t know how to swallow to clear their ears as cabin pressure changes with altitude. At any moment, they’re likely to start screaming in moderate discomfort, to the chagrin of every other passenger on the plane. Air New Zealand has developed a seat built just for this situation, and the project just won a prestigious Crystal Cabin Award for airline innovation.
The origins of the project date back to 2017, when the airline launched a design called the Skycouch. Technically it’s not one seat, but a row of three seats. The seats are standard economy class chairs, but they’ve been fitted with an extra footrest that folds up to form a full, flat couch surface when you want it. The armrest near the window, which is normally fixed in a downward position in most plane cabins, flips up to buy your head a few extra inches as well. A full Skycouch is only about five feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide–it’s not a lot of space!–but it’s enough for two adults to spoon their way through a flight. The airline also offers bedding and pillows to complete the full bed effect.
Late last year, Air New Zealand expanded the Skycouch program to support babies, too. The airline has an infant pod insert, complete with safety harnesses, that allows a little one (up to 40 pounds) to lay down throughout the flight, even when the fasten seatbelt light is on. The infant seat appears to take up about two seats, so you could sit beside your baby for the flight, or squeeze in next to them–sticking it to that young, spooning couple across the aisle as you properly demonstrate the unbreakable bonds of true love rather than spring fling infatuation.
The luxury will cost you, though: Skycouch program requires that you buy three economy seats, then pay a surcharge on top; bedding and infant inserts are then included. So not only is the Skycouch a clever cabin design that allows economy class passengers a bit more comfort, it’s also a shrewd bit of business. That’s because, as all parents know, children under the age of 2 can travel for free by sitting in your lap. Skycouch essentially upsells a parent from buying one seat for two people to buying three seats for two people.
It’s easy to see why the Skycouch is attractive to parents. But in an ideal world, all economy class seats could turn into couches. And we wouldn’t be nickel and dimed for enjoying them on a non-full flight.