Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner sees the debut of a very different premium economy seat compared to the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER flagships.
Ironically, the advanced Spaceseat – clad in white leather upholstery and encased in a fixed shell module – was first designed with the delayed Boeing 787 in mind, and it’s a seat which Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 program director Kerry Reeves admits was “was somewhat ahead of it’s time.”
In its place is a more conventional seat which Reeves says is a better fit to the routes which the Boeing 787-9 will be plying.
“This aircraft is replacing the Boeing 767s on (trans-Tasman) and Asian flying, and premium economy is either a product we don't sell in the short-haul (market) and in the Asian market it is a very emerging product” Reeves tells Australian Business Traveller.
“That market doesn't value the Spaceseat space and experience you get from it. So therefore we thought we needed to develop something that was more appropriate for that market."
The result is a seat that Air New Zealand says is “best described as Business-lite” and will also appear on airline’s refitted Boeing 777-200 jets.
In fact, it’s a design from seatmaker Zodiac Aerospace which began life as a business class seat for single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737, and is also used by Cathay Pacific in its own premium economy cabins.
However, Air New Zealand worked with Zodiac to customise the seat for even greater comfort.
“We tweaked the shape of the lumbar, the recline and the cushion” Reeves explains. “Our premium economy seat looks more luxurious and feels more comfortable than Cathay’s.”
Air NZ’s premium economy seats are also finished in leather rather than cloth and have an integrated legrest fitted to every seat, not just those in the front row as is the case in Cathay Pacific’s premium economy cabin.
There are 21 premium economy seats in Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9, arranged in three rows over a 2-3-2 configuration.
The seats have a 41 inch pitch and are 19.3 inches wide with a 5 inch wide shared armrest.
The 9 inch recline is almost twice that of the Boeing 787-9’s economy seats, and in our long flight from Seattle to Auckland they proved exceptionally comfortable.
There’s also sufficient legroom and, perhaps more importantly, room around the knees, as this is where cramped quarters are most noticeable.
Each seat gets its own AC socket, located near the floor at the front of the seat...
... while a USB socket sits under the 11 inch touchscreen, which is hooked up to Air New Zealand’s new inflight entertainment system.
While the USB port doesn’t have sufficient juice to recharge a tablet, there’s enough to keep the battery topped up during flight rather than running down as you watch movies, play games or flip through the pages of an e-magazine.
The tray table is better suited to a tablet than a laptop.
There is, however, a shortage of storage space for your own knick-knacks.
Yes, the literature pocket has a second insert into which you can slide a slim book, magazine, ebook reader or tablet.
But the nook located below the seatback video screen in Cathay pacific’s premium economy seating (below) would have been a welcome inclusion on the Air NZ version.
While being a fairly narrow and shallow shelf it’s about the right size for your smartphone or iPod, your own earbuds and a pair of reading glasses.
Premium economy passengers have access their own bathroom, located behind the last seats on the left side of the cabin (25A and 25B).
Other creature comforts include premium check-in at the airport, priority baggage, amenity kits, noise-cancelling headphones and bottled water – that’s pretty much the same list as for Air NZ’s business class.
Depending on pricing, this could well make premium economy the value-for-money sweet spot on Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 flights.
Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 will begin flying between Auckland and Sydney on Saturday August 9, ahead of its official debut on the Auckland-Perth route in October, with Shanghai and Tokyo to follow by the end of this year (once the airline takes delivery of two more Dreamliners in September and October).
Australian Business Traveller travelled on the Boeing 787-9 delivery flight from Seattle to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand and Boeing.
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.