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Economy Passengers Could Soon Lie Down on Airplanes — Meet the Airline That's Doing It First

Source: Air New Zealand

Economy flights practically guarantee a stiff neck, a child kicking the back of your seat and competition with your seatmate to claim the middle seat's armrests.

One airline wants to cure these traveling ailments: Air New Zealand recently announced the world's first lie-flat "pods" for economy class airplanes, set to debut in 2024. The concept, called "Skynest," has been in research and development for five years and will likely feature two rows of three stacked bunk beds for a total of six full-length sleeping pods. The beds will be installed on Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, and will exist in addition to regular seating sections.

The sleeping pods might prove necessary: This fall, Air New Zealand will host its first nonstop flight from Auckland to New York's John K. Kennedy International Airport. The roughly 17-hour flight will be one of the world's longest regularly scheduled passenger flights, and the eventual Skynest rollout could be a perfect fit.

But the pods – which will include cooling pillows and ventilation outlets – likely won't come cheap. Prices have yet to be announced, but Air New Zealand says four hours of access to a sleep pod will cost an extra fee on top of your economy ticket.

"The airline did a fair bit of research around sleep cycles," an Air New Zealand spokesperson told CNN Travel last week. "A typical sleep cycle is around 90 minutes, so a four-hour session gives the opportunity for customers to wind down, fall asleep and wake up."

The bedding will be changed and the pods will be cleaned for 30 minutes in between every session, according to the airline.

When Air New Zealand initially announced the concept in 2020, transportation analyst Seth Kaplan told CNBC he was skeptical that economy passengers would jump in line to try it. People who are paying the lowest possible rate for a ticket probably aren't interested in ticket add-ons, especially when the pods will occupy much of each plane's already limited space, he said.

"The airline business is a real estate business," Kaplan said. "Air New Zealand will have to ask itself if those beds will bring in more money than economy or premium seats in the same space."

This isn't Air New Zealand's first attempt to help economy travelers sleep better. Passengers can already upgrade their coach seats to a "SkyCouch," or coach seats with footrests that lift to create a bedlike space. That product has also been licensed by China Airlines and the Brazilian carrier Azul.

The race to put actual beds in economy class appears to have fewer participants. In 2018, Airbus said it was working with aerospace design firm Zodiac to put bunk beds in the cargo holds of planes, but no mention of the concept currently exists on Airbus' site beyond that initial announcement.

Airbus did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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