Yesterday we brought you an in-depth first review of Air New Zealand's brand new Business Premier cabin.
Today, we're taking a detailed look at the Kiwi airline's much-vaunted Premium Economy Spaceseats. It's the newest and most unusual cabin of the three on the new 777-300ER aircraft, and while there are a lot of great features, there are some problems with the new seats too.
Previous reviews of the Spaceseat, based on a set installed at Air New Zealand's top secret Hangar 9 in Auckland, were overwhelmingly positive. The space-age new cabins, wide seats and ability to curl up on the middle pair of two seats won wide reviews.
However, reviews of the seats in place on the 777-300ER haven't been so positive -- and, based on just a few minutes trying to get comfortable in the seats, we can see why.
There are 50 Spaceseats on the 777-300ER, and the cabin is laid out in three sets of seat pairs, which stretch back seven rows (on the left hand side of the plane, seats A & B), eight rows (the right hand side of the plane, seats J and K) and ten rows (the middle pair, seats D & E).
The outboard seats nearest the windows are both angled away from the aisle and towards the windows. The middle pair are angled away from each other, into the aisle, but have a centre console section that can be raised and lowered to provide a snack table or space to curl up on.
A table folds down from each seat in front (the seats at the very front have tables that fold down from the walls), and the entertainment touch screen angles out on a small arm. The table is hinged in the middle, so it can be used either fully open or half-closed.
All seats have the same plug setup as Business Premier: a universal plug providing 110v power, a USB charging socket for portable devices like phones and music players, and a video-in socket to watch movies from your iPhone, iPod or iPad on the in-flight entertainment screen.
Next to each seat there's a small cushioned compartment for wallets, phones, glasses and so on. It's between the two D & E seats in the middle of the cabin and on the aisle side of the other seats. (An Air New Zealand cabin crew member told us that they've already started walking through the cabin before landing to remind people to check the compartment for valuables.)
If you want a view out of the window, you'll need to be in an A or K window seat in rows 23, 24 and 25: the rest of the cabin is over the wing.
In the footwell under each seat sits a small purple beanbag that short passengers can use as a footrest, although one person on the plane who was 5'4" (162 cm) tall said that even she didn't need to use it. For taller passengers, it'll just get in the way.
But here's the problem
Really, it's all about pitch. That's the space between your seat back and the seat in front of you: the room that's "yours" during the flight.
While the six seats at the very front of the cabin have a decent amount of room, the remaining rows feel very close together. Even passengers under six feet tall were mentioning that they felt cramped.
The lack of legroom is particularly bad in the B and J seats, which are the aisle seats next to the A and K window seats. You'd be hard-pressed to manage to use a laptop on the tables in these seats, because the seat in front is angled backwards into your space. You're best off putting the purple beanbag ottoman on your lap and using it as a laptop rest.
Worse, though, is knee space. If you're in the centre two seats (D and E), which are angled away from each other and out into the aisle, one of your knees sticks out and will be banged by every person walking past. (We were testing the in-flight entertainment for five minutes, and there wasn't a single person who managed to avoid the knee in the aisle.)
Reclining the seat doesn't help: like Cathay Pacific's deeply unpopular economy seats, the Spaceseat slides forwards. Although it means that the person in front isn't impinging on your space, it also reduces your legroom -- and knee room. The amount of recline is actually less than the old version of Air New Zealand's Premium Economy seats.
The Spaceseat also has a tilt lever, which angles the bottom cushion forward or back. If this lever gets stuck -- which happened to us, and the Air NZ seat technicians had to come and give it a stout thump before it worked again -- or if the mechanism breaks, prepare for a flight of sliding off the leather seat.
The food and wine
Since the plane was on the ground when we looked at it, there wasn't an opportunity to check out the new food from the galleys with innovative induction ovens. Air New Zealand is the first airline to install these ovens, which give more options for in-flight dining.
New Zealand wine features heavily on board -- only the port and champagne aren't Kiwi -- and Premium Economy passengers have their pick of the full range.
The old "Kia ora" entertainment system has been replaced by "Kupe", and it's a welcome upgrade. The new system is significantly faster than the old and has a much wider range of TV, movies, games, destination guides and more.
Premium Economy passengers who don't get a huge amount of sleep on the plane may find that the screen is a little too close to the eyes to watch in one position for the whole flight.
The Premium Economy screen is actually closer to you than it is in Economy.
We'll be doing a full roundup of the in-flight entertainment options later in the week, so check back for our review.
These seats would be fantastic long-haul Premium Economy seats if there were just a couple of inches more legroom in each row. In everything but legroom and recline, they're an improvement on the older generation 777 Premium Economy seats.
It's hard to imagine these new seats fitting into the aircraft they were designed for -- the much-delayed Boeing 787, which is 16 inches/41 cm narrower than the 777. Perhaps the original design called for less angling and more legroom?
Whatever the reason for the reduced legroom is, it spoils what is actually an excellent -- though expensive -- long-haul Premium Economy.
We checked fares in April and May, and the cheapest we found from Auckland to London return was A$4,679 (NZ$6,201) roundtrip.
Compare that with Air New Zealand's Business Premier at $8,488 (NZ$11,248), Malaysia Airlines' Business Class at A$5,343 (NZ$7,079) or Emirates' Business Class at A$6,864 (NZ$9,095).
But how does it stack up against the infamous "cuddle class" -- Air New Zealand's Economy Skycouch, three economy seats that turn into one? We'll review that tomorrow, with some surprising conclusions for business travellers.