Fully flat beds are coming to the Asian LCC market in mid-2020. Japan Airlines subsidiary ZIPAir Tokyo expects to fly mid-haul operations on 787-8 aircraft from 14 May 2020 and the new aircraft interior offers a premium option that could be compelling, though still most definitely a limited, Low Cost Carrier product. The carrier’s reconfigured 787s, inherited from their parent carrier, will be reconfigured with 18 ZIP Full-Flat seats for premium travel and 272 Standard seats for everyone else on board.
ZIP Full-Flat’s premium seat
For the premium customer the flat bed is key and ZIPAir delivers on that front. The carrier chose the Jamco seat, also used by KLM, to fit its cabin. The seats will be covered in leather and feature personal reading lights and power outlets.
The cabin layout is simple, perhaps even basic. But that’s what the carrier is targeting. It will compete against its parent company and other airlines that it knows will offer more luxurious services but the flat bed remains a compelling part of the mid-haul travel experiences that the company hopes to meet.
A completely passable Economy Class on ZIPAir
When the most innovative part of the economy class cabin is the Passenger Service Unit (PSU) integration (i.e. the call button) that’s a pretty good indication that the offering does not do much to move the market forward. ZIPAir’s approach in economy, much like in its premium cabin, is to meet the basic needs and not deviate too much from there.
The Recaro seats will be pitched at 31″ and run 9-abreast, both standard on a 787 layout. The seats also feature power and an integrated tablet holder. That last bit is critical as BYOD entertainment is the name of the game on board. ZIPAir will not include an embedded entertainment system on its planes.
As for the innovation part, the economy class PSU controls will sit in the seatback, between the flip-down tablet holder and bifold tray table. That gets them out of the armrest, improving the passenger experience in multiple ways. The risk of accidentally triggering a light or flight attendant call call decreases significantly if those buttons are not under elbow. And the maintenance costs on the system should be reduced as the armrests contain no wiring or related parts.
Finally, it should be noted that the economy class recline is listed at 3″ and indicates an articulating seat pan. This reduces knee room as the seat base slides forward when a passenger reclines the seat. But it also means the reclined seat imposes less on the row behind.
No IFE, No Problem?
ZIPAir expects customers will want to relax on board, with the color scheme intended to promote “a sense of serenity.” That serenity will be improved, perhaps, by a lack of bright screens in the cabin. The carrier’s decision to depend on passenger-supplied hardware is a bold choice, one that typically has not seen broad acceptance in the longer-haul markets. This decision will be compounded by ZIPAir’s choice to charge for the content on board. The carrier indicated that it will “primarily offer a fee-based option to browse the Internet and stream movies on the passenger`s smartphone or tablet.”
The overall comfort on board is hard to predict based on renderings and specifications pages, but ZIPAir does not appear to be trying to win major awards with this cabin. Instead it is hoping to win over cost-sensitive customers. That might work out, though it will depend in large part on the broader route network and competitive pressures. Bangkok and Seoul are the initial destinations, both of which feature direct competition from LCCs and full-service carriers. Add in Hawaii and Portland, Oregon (PDX) as the rumored first US destinations, also both offering direct competition, and the carrier may only have price, not product, to depend on as it seeks to establish its position in the market. Even for an LCC start-up that’s a risky position to take.