I was thinking of my upcoming travel. Every year, I go back home to New England to visit with family and friends. However, the flight home is a means to the end. How can I get back home in a quick, efficient, and cost-effective way without being cramped and uncomfortable on a flight that will last no longer than two and half hours?

My upcoming travel got me thinking about future trips that I want to take (without breaking the bank or my legs). I would love to go to New Zealand and Australia, but the concept of flying over 24 hours in a confined space is not a thrilling prospect for someone tall like me-I’m 6’2″-who needs that extra legroom! I would love to fly business class, or even first class, for such a long flight, but the additional costs are usually prohibitive. Air New Zealand, however, has introduced a new innovative concept for coach…called “Skycouch” (or also known as “Cuddle Couch” by industry observers). So what exactly is SkyCouch and how did this idea happen?

Per Air New Zealand, the Skycouch is a trio of Economy seats that together create a flexible space for two people. You can use the seats like you normally would, or with the touch of a button, footrests will come out from under each of the three seats and the passengers can then create a flat, flexible space for sleeping.Two passengers thus take up three seats and pay about half the cost of the third seat for this additional convenience.

So how did this concept evolve? The project began in 2004, when the airline ordered new 787 and 777 aircrafts from Boeing. It then took four years for the airline to figure out how to reconfigure the seats and make them work within the confines of an airplane. The airline began the project by tinkering with different furniture concepts and designs in a warehouse. Then, over time, several seat manufacturers built mock-ups for the airline to test with customers and staff. One of the problems encountered by the airline was a design that would pass airline safety standards. The airline also had to make ensure that the concept would not cannibalize first class. Not to mention how to put this new class of service into computer reservation systems for themselves and their airline partners. However, the company resolved all of those issues over time before putting it on the market for customers.

Air New Zealand appears to be winning over customers with their service and new Skycouch seating in economy coach. In particular, they recently took fifth place overall for best foreign airline in the 2011 Conde Nast readers’ poll. I think this is one great example of how a company showed, that even within the confines of an airplane, innovation can be achieved by thinking outside of the box. And that is a great lesson for anyone working within any box. Now I just need to figure out how to think outside of the box to take two weeks off from work and pay for airfare to New Zealand…