Hey Air New Zealand, what happened to my Skycouch?

By | January 9th, 2016

Susan Crookall books an Air New Zealand Skycouch — three seats across in economy class — for the marathon flight from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. When she doesn’t get it, she wants the airline to compensate her. But should it?

Question: Last year I booked an Air New Zealand Skycouch for a flight from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. I’d recently had knee surgery and needed the extra room. I paid $2,170 for the ticket.

When I boarded the flight, I found out that Air New Zealand had sold two of the three adjacent seats to other passengers, and I was denied their use. The flight manager said I “hadn’t paid enough” for the Skycouch option, and refused to move me to business class.

I identified myself as disabled because of my recent knee surgery. I had had stitches removed two days before flying and had promised my surgeon I could keep the leg elevated on the long flight.

Because I was unable to do so, my knee swelled up so badly that my mobility was restricted and I couldn’t enjoy my time in Auckland.

I originally asked Air New Zealand for my entire fare to be refunded. They declined and refunded $1,199, the difference between the normal coach fare and the Skycouch fare.

I have filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Do I have any other recourse to get additional compensation? For the truly traumatic and insulting way I was treated, my hope was that the airline would have done just a little bit extra. — Susan Crookall, Fort Collins, Colo.

Answer: It takes more than 12 hours to fly from San Francisco to Auckland. The seat pitch — a rough measure of legroom — is somewhere between 31 and 33 inches in economy class, which makes this marathon flight an ordeal for anyone.

Related story:   This traveler gets exactly what she requested -- and then rejects the resolution

The Skycouch is actually a great idea. It offers three economy-class seats in a row that, together, create a flexible space — an area to relax and stretch out in, or for the kids to use as a play area. “It’s like having your very own couch on the plane,” Air New Zealand says.

If you booked a Skycouch, you should have had one. Instead, a crew member told you, in front of the other passengers, that the $2,170 you paid wasn’t “enough” and that you had to suffer through the flight in a regular economy-class seat, despite your disability.

Technically, all the airline had to do was refund you the extra money you paid. But let’s not get hung up on technicalities. There’s still the issue of the painful crossing and how it affected your stay in New Zealand.

Surely, Air New Zealand owes you at least an apology for the denied seating.

As a side note, none of this ought to be necessary. Every seat on a transpacific crossing should have a minimum level of comfort. Airlines keep moving the seats closer together to make more money, and although Air New Zealand is by no means the worst offender, it can do better.

I contacted Air New Zealand on your behalf. A representative contacted you and explained that a schedule change in your flight time resulted in your Skycouch reservation being “disassociated” from your reservation. In other words, Air New Zealand thought you’d paid for a single seat. The airline is working on a fix. A representative apologized to you, credited you with 5,000 frequent-flier miles and refunded your airfare — an exceptionally generous resolution.

Related story:   Room with a wrong view

This article originally published March 30, 2015.

  • It would be so nice if these cockroaches would do the right thing BEFORE they get splashed all over social media. Oh, well.

  • Kathi C

    Disassociated??? Did this passenger even bother to check seat assignments in the weeks and days prior to flying? Had she kept an eye on her reservations it’s likely she could have fixed this long before boarding!

  • This flight originated in the US. I believe that it falls under the Air Carrier Access Act. The passenger tried to self accommodate. That said, Air New Zealand was still on the hook once the passenger self-identified as disabled. More so, if she had that information placed in her PNR when she reserved her seats. A complaint to the DOT was the right action.

  • CasaAlux

    I feel like I have read this story before. Oh, wait, I have… in March 2015, when it was originally published. Why are you recycling old stories?

  • Bill___A

    I thought the skycouch was three seats for two people, not three seats for one person. It is too bad they had a technical problem. I don’t think I would fly two days after having stitches…

  • MF

    Hear, hear! Airlines simply behave according to the laws and regulations affecting them. If we want them to behave better, perhaps we should adjust the ‘environment’ under which they operate? That being said, forcing a disabled person to sit in a cramped seat when a larger seat with more legroom is available is egregious, and inhumane – all for a profit, the Bhhastards!

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    Someone hacked the elliott site and deleted a ton of stuff. It’s being put back up for historical purposes. Probably also to stick a thumb in the eye of the hackers.

  • JenniferFinger

    If she had surgery two days before flying, it’s very unlikely she could check seat assignments during that time. And even if she could have, Air New Zealand should not have resold the seats she purchased.

  • cscasi

    “I identified myself as disabled because of my recent knee surgery. I had had stitches removed two days before flying and had promised my surgeon I could keep the leg elevated on the long flight.”
    She did NOT have surgery on her knee two days before flying. She had the stitches removed two days before flying!
    However, I do agree that Air New Zealand should not have sold two of the three seats she purchased. It had an excuse of changing of aircraft, but it still disassociated her skycouch reservation from her regular reservation. This is another example of why passengers should constantly check their reservations to see if “anything” has changed since they made it. Also, it would definitely not hurt to ask the reservation agent to add in your PNR anything “special” you want or anything “extra” your purchased, like the upgraded seating.

  • cscasi

    “The Skycouch is a row of three Economy seats that together create a flexible space for whatever you want it to be..”

  • cscasi

    That was answered yesterday and the answer was that they are “almost done”. I am not sure we really know the real reason why yet.

  • JenniferFinger

    Look, I’m not interested in splitting hairs here. Someone who needs major medical treatment that close to flying might well not be able to check or confirm anything right before flying.

  • Kathi C

    Check and double check! And once again before heading to the airport!

  • Kathi C

    No she had Stiches stitches removed… Not surgery.

  • pauletteb

    Skycouch does sound like a great idea! I wonder if Qantas offers something similar.

  • Cat

    If passengers make a slight mistake- the airlines stick it to us. If the airlines make a mistake- they still stick to us. We need some real competition in the US. Let foreign carriers take on domestic routes and I think we would see a huge shift in airline attitude and policies.

  • just me

    Chris – I am not sure why are you so happy about the resolutions. They breached the contract for no good reason. It is good that they learned something – but they should have paid for the lesson in the first place. They sold the three seats and the flight attendant relied on the printout of sort which he should have known can be wrong and should have forced the gate agent to produce the full transaction record and drill dipper.
    She should have been refunded the full price – not just a portion. Yes they did fly her – but that was not the deal they made with her.
    5,000 miles – is it a good compensation? really?
    I know which airline not to fly.

  • JenniferFinger

    Like I said. I’m not interested in splitting hairs with you regarding the specifics of her medical treatment. But someone who had to have serious medical treatment of any kind right before traveling may well not be able to verify anything between the time if the treatment and the trip, so I don’t care to point my finger at her and blame her for not doing so.

  • Kathi C

    Humm surgery I get, removing stitches is a whole different thing, I think splitting hairs does not describe this situation.
    NZ does what airlines often do, they screw up people’s reservations as they did with the LW. You have to watch your reservation like a hawk. Does this excuse the Airline, no they are incompetent. But if you want to make sure your reservations are correct then you better watch them carefully.

    It’s too bad you can’t depend on the airline to do their job and provide what you pay for!

  • KarlaKatz

    If PAX was incapacitated (not likely, with only having stitches removed), she certainly could have assigned the task of checking seat assignments to family or friends. These days, one has to be almost obsessive/compulsive about checking and double checking reservations… especially in this case: PAX knew she would have special needs. That doesn’t excuse ANZ’s behavior, but PAX must accept partial responsibility for her predicament.

  • JenniferFinger

    Sorry, but no. You are assuming there was anyone she could “assign” anything to based on evidence not presented, and with all the “personal responsibility” arguments going back and forth here, no one was required to accept any such “assignment,” so I find this argument doesn’t hold water.

  • DChamp56

    Why would anyone believe that a bazillion free miles is worth a penny? Give me cash, that’s where they will actually learn a lesson, not in free miles that cost them next to nothing. smh

  • Ianto Jones

    “A representative apologized to you, credited you with 5,000 frequent-flier miles and refunded your airfare — an exceptionally generous resolution.”

    They _did_ refund the full price, _and_ give the 5K miles.

    That doesn’t fix her damaged trip experience (on and off the plane), but it is honestly far more than the usual sort of resolutions airlines provide, if they provide anything at all.

  • just me

    You are absolutely right – I did skip the fare refund. But really – how many lifes do one has, and how many trips one wishes to make on Air New Zealand and if you live in Akron Ohio and will die of cancer in 12 months and wish to make a trip to New Zealand with your last dollar – what are you going to do with the generous 5k miles and even the fare refund. Time is lost and passed and never to be had again.
    I guess she is lucky that they did not call Chicago police officer who would simply shoot her in place because of his perception of — whatever.
    It did cost them nothing to refund the fare that they did not earn and cost them nothing to give her 5k miles and apology. They also did nothing to correct their system, retrain their agents. The whole thing was without any consequence to the airline nor to their employees and this is why the abuse of passengers shall continue.

  • Sean

    She was incapacitated from the orthopedic surgery. The skin & muscles they make the incisions in heal much, much faster than the bones, tendons, cartilage, ligaments etc. worked on. As an example when I had a surgery my stitches came out in six days, but I had another five weeks of recuperation when I couldn’t bend the affected joint.

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