Have you been in this situation? You’re on a long flight, tired and cranky from feeling cramped. You can’t fall asleep sitting upright no matter what you try. It can be quite challenging to get comfortable when you have to stay in the same position for 10 hours.
While business- and first-class seating comes equipped with bonuses like fully reclining seats and fine dining experiences, basic economy ticket holders have historically been, well, out of luck. (Unless you upgrade to an exit row, which isn’t an option if you’re flying with young children.)
You could hit the air traveler’s lottery and somehow — magically — not have anyone sitting in the seats on either side of you. If this does happen, you might want to go directly to the nearest gas station upon arrival to buy a lottery ticket because it’s your lucky day.
More and more airlines are offering a lower-cost alternative to booking pricier tickets for long-haul flights, which are typically anything over six hours. Sleeper seats, also known as sky couches, look slightly different depending on the airline, but the main idea is you get the entire row of seats to yourself, and it’s more cost-effective than booking all three seats in a row.
Think of these as a hybrid between economy and business class seats — but don’t get too caught up in daydreaming about warm cookies appearing out of thin air or endless cocktails being served. Basically, you’re adding a touch of comfort to your economy experience.
How To Book A Sky Couch
To start with, you’re going to want to make sure your airline offers sleeper’s row seating. Not all of them do, and some only offer it as an upgrade if flights are relatively empty. Unfortunately, this upgraded economy option hasn’t caught on with U.S.-based airlines such as American or United just yet.
However, some airlines, such as Air New Zealand and Vietnam Airlines, have taken the lie-flat upgrade to a whole new level by revamping their aircraft with special, patented, transformable seats. Others, like Lufthansa, offer a more pared-down version that’s just a thin mattress plus a blanket and pillow that turn the row into a mini-bed.
Air New Zealand’s Sky Couch Offering
With the country being so far away from practically everywhere else, Air New Zealand is used to transporting passengers by air for hours at a time. The company offers three varieties of sky couch options: one row of three seats, one row of three seats plus an additional seat, or two rows of three seats.
The seats themselves have footrests that can be adjusted and flipped to help create a totally flat bed in line with the seat cushion.
You also have the option to book one of these unique seating arrangements at the same time you’re booking your seat. When you select your flight, look for the “Skycouch on board” options. Select an economy seat; you should then see the extra Skycouch cost. When you select a Skycouch as your seat, you’ll see the cost, which is based on how many people are using the seat (up to three adults). You can choose your configuration, too.
They even hand out sleeper kits after take-off, which come equipped with a thin mattress pad, blanket and pillow.
Here’s a video from Air New Zealand promoting its SkyCouches on YouTube:
Be on the lookout next year for a revamped sky couch called SkyNest, which is what the company is calling “the world’s first sleep pods in the sky for Economy travellers.”
In addition to being able to stretch out and lie down, imagine being able to grab a snack or something to drink whenever you see fit without having to flag down a stewardess. Air New Zealand is also adding Sky Pantries to Premium Economy and Economy cabins.
Sleeper’s Row On Lufthansa
Lufthansa’s version of this amenity is called Sleeper’s Row. Unfortunately, with Lufthansa, it isn’t something you can book well in advance. It’s a “day of” upgrade for flights that are 11 hours or more when the airline knows the flight isn’t full. Book at check-in or the gate. Current prices range from an additional $179 to $249 per leg.
Once you purchase the option, you will be given a sleep set that includes a thin mattress, a blanket and a pillow.
Sky Sofa On Vietnam Airlines
Vietnam Airlines sells a Sky Sofa option, which is an additional two empty seats so passengers can enjoy a full row in its Economy cabin on specific routes: between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and Ho Chi Minh City to London/Paris/Frankfurt. Travelers can book between 15 days and 6 hours before departure which cost an additional $400-$600.
It should be noted that with Vietnam Airlines’ option, adults with infants are not eligible to purchase, because infants must be seated under an oxygen mask.
Traveling With Infants And Small Children
While ads for sleeper seats showcase parents cuddling with their small children, not all airlines welcome infants in these modified rows — like Vietnam Airlines, as noted.
Air New Zealand, however, welcomes little ones by offering additional safety features like the infant harness and harness belt along with an optional infant pod at no additional cost.
Some families may find comfort in the extra space and the ability to lie flat. However, if you’re traveling solo, weigh the airline’s price difference between the sky couch option and premium economy or business class. It might not always be the best deal.
Could This Be Standard In The Future?
Other airlines have introduced similar options since New Zealand introduced its Sky Couch in 2011. For example, Taiwan’s China Airlines offers a Family Couch, while Azul Brazilian Airlines has a Skysofa, Air Astana (Kazakhstan) has the Economy Sleeper, French airline Air Austral has the Extra Couchette, and Japan’s All Nippon Airways unveiled the COUCHii in 2019 on flights between Tokyo and Honolulu.
Also, Airbus is designing a new couch-style seating for its business class in what’s being called the “Settee Corner.” It’s actually based on the economy-class three-seat module. It has a similar luxurious twist: instead of individual seats, it’s more of a couch with a seatbelt.
The concept of sleeping well on a long flight without shelling out twice as much money seems like a true luxury. Imagine breezing through jet lag and feeling well-rested during — and after — your trip. Some travelers might say it’s worth the extra cash.