what the fight for the Pacific routes will contribute to the sector
In a battle to win over travelers flying over the Pacific, some airlines are making big changes to offer more economy-class amenities, including a stretching area and full-size beds.
Quantas Airways and Air New Zealand, already competing for 3-hour flights to Australia, are now trying to outdo each other on comfort to boost ticket sales of up to 16 hours between the cities of Auckland and New York.
The good news in the story of this rivalry is that both airlines could eventually establish a model that satisfies economy class passengers, amid an ever-increasing trend in long-haul flights.
Singapore Airlines’ 18-hour route to New York City is currently the longest direct commercial flight in existence.
As a Bloomberg report well analyzes, it is a quite lucrative strategy if one takes into account that the air market handles high fares and great demand after the restrictions due to the pandemic ended.
Skynest, the evolution of the Skycouch
By 2024, Air New Zealand plans to add so-called “Skynest” berths for economy class that will allow passengers to book four-hour sleep slots in specially designed capsules. Pricing has not yet been announced.
The new comfort adjustments take shape after, last September, the same airline released its “Skycouch” for customers who want to travel non-stop to New York. The Skycouch transforms a row of three inexpensive seats into a makeshift bed, which might not be as comfortable as its successor.
Qantas Airways, on the other hand, announced that it is working on introducing non-stop flights for the Auckland-New York route this June.
The first step has been to invest millions of dollars in a new lounge at Auckland airport and three more in Australia to funnel customers onto the road. Then, by the end of 2025, it will open the world’s first direct flights connecting Sydney with New York and London.
To that end, Qantas has ordered 12 customized Airbus SE A350-1000 aircraft, which will feature extra legroom in economy class and a “wellness zone” for passengers to stretch and drink water.
Both airlines are using Boeing 787 Dreamliners, a wide-body, mid-size commercial jet.
They could stimulate a new demand for the Atlantic
“It’s a huge draw with hundreds of European destinations, including London and Paris, just a short flight from New York via our partner airlines,” Air New Zealand director of sales Leanne Geraghty told Bloomberg.
Geraghty confirmed that bookings have been “very strong” on the Auckland-New York route since the launch in September. Flights to New York could also spur new demand for Atlantic connections to Europe.
In August, nonstop flights from Auckland to New York in economy class cost between $1,480 and $2,056, according to kayak.com. By comparison, flights with a stopover in Houston or Los Angeles, such as those on Air New Zealand, typically cost no more than $1,280.
Data from the airline itself indicate that America and Europe have been its largest long-haul market for years, even above other more traditional vacation destinations found in Asia.
Air New Zealand, in particular, has faced some obstacles since implementing the Skycouch. She had to reduce passenger loads to make the planes more wind resistant, and on her maiden flight, she was forced to unload the bags of up to 65 customers.
But winning the strategic route between the two continents is so critical that airlines are willing to eliminate profitable seat space and make any other modifications.
In March 2018, when Qantas first floated the idea of expanding the accommodations with bunk beds on board, the plan also included a gym of sorts in the aircraft hold. A year later, its CEO, Alan Joyce, confirmed that it could not materialize, at least for the moment.
“Putting stuff in the luggage hold… doesn’t work,” Joyce told Australian outlet Traveller.com.au. In addition to the potential gym and berths, Qantas was exploring the possibility of children’s play areas, office space or a bar inside the hold to help alleviate passenger jitters on flights of around 21 hours.