Air New Zealand’s new Business Premier and premium economy ‘Spaceseat’ will make their debut on daily flights between Melbourne and Auckland next month.
The new cabins, along with the innovative ‘cuddle class’ Skycouch for economy passengers, are all features of the Kiwi flag-carrier’s first Boeing 777-300ER which arrives factory-fresh from Seattle at the end of this month.
A spokesperson for Air New Zealand told Australian Business Traveller that the 777-300ER would run as one of the three daily services between Melbourne and Auckland from the week commencing January 10, 2011.
But it’s not yet a full-time schedule: this is just a one-week showcase of the new seats and cabins to give trans-Tasman travellers a taste of what’s in store as four more 777-300ERs enter service.
“This will be a ‘surprise-and-delight’ for customers who are lucky enough to be onboard the selected flights that it operates on”, the Air New Zealand spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
AirNZ will also run these ‘preview’ flights between Auckland and Los Angeles, ahead of scheduling the plane and its three new cabins onto the dedicated NZ1/NZ2 service between Auckland and London via Los Angeles from April 1, 2011.
The AirNZ spokesperson declined to say when a similar scheduled service would run the trans-Tasman route but told Australian Business Traveller that “further information regarding flights on the Tasman will be available in the new year”.
The Skycouch: even solo flyers can doze as they cross the ditch
What's so special about the new seats?
While the ‘cuddle class’ Skycouch is certain to gain plenty of media exposure for its ability to transform into a bed built for two (or one, if you’re willing to pay for the empty seats), the premium economy Spaceseat will be of most interest to business travellers and frequent flyers.
Having already experienced one of these premium economy seats, we’d suggest it could easily beat many airlines’ business class offerings.
In fact, while the concept appears similar to Cathay Pacific’s new international business class seats the Spaceseats were created for Air New Zealand by US design firm Ideo and have been licensed by the carrier for sale to other airlines.
“There was no premium economy seat available in the market that delivered the exclusive style of customer experience we were looking for” says Ed Sims, AirNZ’s Group General Manager International. “The only answer was to design our own.”
“This is a game-changing product for premium economy which will have our competitors playing catch up for several years" Sims says. The airline says it's fielded calls from "more than 30 airlines" about both the Skycouch and Spaceseats, and "Boeing has indicated they’re interested in the (Spaceseats) as a business class option for their 737 range.”
Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe says that formal negotiations are already underway with carriers from Asia, North America and Europe to license the seats once Air New Zealand's initial 18 month exclusivity period has expired.
"There's a great deal of excitment within the airline about the game-changing aircraft we are about to introduce," he said. "Few if any airlines have invested time and money in re-designing the economy experience and we've done it for both economy and premium economy."
The central Spaceseats: companionship if you want it, privacy if you don't
Arrayed in a 2-2-2 configuration, the central Spaceseats are slightly angled for those travelling with a colleague or partner. The pairs of outboard seats on either side are angled to enhance privacy for solo flyers.
The two 'cocktail tables' can form a single table for shared in-flight dining
The seats are built around a hard shell so the passenger in front can’t recline into the space of the person sitting behind; instead, the seat slides forward and angles up as it reclines into the shell, similar to an armchair in your living room.
The inflight entertainment system also gets an upgrade, with passengers able to order meals straight off the 10.6 inch touchscreen.
Meals like this tapas selection can be ordered from the touchscreen
How to get on an upgraded AirNZ flight
So if you’re shuttling between Melbourne and Auckland in mid-January, how do you score one of these Spaceseats to try for yourself?
Because the new 777 isn’t attached to any single service on the daily schedule it’ll be luck of the draw as to which passengers find themselves about the new aircraft.
That also means you won’t be able to purchase a Spaceseat new seat because AirNZ’s booking system won’t see the option for premium economy.
Air New Zealand tells Australian Business Traveller that customers who’ve booked the Works Deluxe economy package – the most expensive of the airline’s four economy-class deals – or are ‘high value’ customers with the carrier’s Airpoints Silver, Gold or Gold Elite frequent flyer status will be top of the list for an upgrade to the new Spaceseat.
The same is likely to apply to the Skycouch bunks, which occupy the window-side (ABC and HJK) seats in the first 11 rows of economy, but of course couples will likely get first dibs on those.
In addition to the five new Boeing 777-300ERs, Air New Zealand’s eight 777-200s will undergo a refit for the new cabins from mid-2011. The airline predicts that “all Asian, North American and UK services to have the new product by around 2012.”
Its six Boeing 747-400s won’t be upgraded, as these are being replaced by the new 777-300ERs, which offer almost a third more seats than the jumbo.
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.