Air New Zealand / SkyCouch

Three seats or a couch? The choice is yours


How did a small national airline achieve something their larger global partners could not?


The Challenge

Long-haul travel is one of the last remaining generic product and price fought consumer categories left globally. The marketplace is littered with similar fare structures, service offerings and cabins rather than offering a compelling end-to-end experience that met both the functional and emotive needs of long-haul travellers. 

We identified that to remain not just competitive, but to continue to build revenue, brand and customer value we must lift ourselves out of the ordinary and take a leadership position by delivering a customer-driven differentiated long-haul experience that is truly unique in its promise and delivery. The Chief Executive at the time put out the challenge - to deliver sleep in the back of the plane - and be the first to do it. 

The Approach

To realize the audacious objectives, we developed a user-driven design research process that, over a twelve month period, identified insightful opportunity areas where we could deliver unparalleled passenger comfort. The research process was wide and deep, taking the research team across the world studying both in-bound and out-bound long-haul travellers, airline cabin crew, airport processes, and experiences (including experiences from other industries where comfort was being delivered). This process broadened our perspective and provided fresh insights and customer needs.

Some of the key insights and customer value drivers that we extracted and used to drive the entire design process were understanding people wanted more control over their journey experience and they felt trapped – needing to be set free from both the physical and emotional confines of the seat


Whether you’re a couple who’d like a bit of extra room, parents with a young child, or a parent with two restless kids, the SkyCouch was designed to respond to everyone’s needs. The seat is a trio of three economy seats that together create a flexible space for whatever you want it to be – to relax and stretch out in, or for the kids to use as a play area. It’s like having your own couch/sofa on the plane. By booking this three-wide seat space, you unlocked a variety of choices and benefits – as well as fun. SkyCouch enabled people to customise their space to meet their needs. We summed that proposition up as ‘Three seats or a couch? The choice is yours’

The Outcome

Because of the bold approach to the problem, Air New Zealand was quickly catapulted to the top of the airline industry, receiving multiple awards, including Skytrax and Crystal Cabin. Air New Zealand also received several Red Dot and IDSA awards for design excellence.

SkyCouch was voted one of the best innovations within the airline industry and is now a key differentiator for the brand and is being licensed to other airlines.