Air New Zealand’s new business class and premium economy ‘Spaceseat’, along with the 'cuddle-class' Skycouch, will make their debut on flights between Auckland and Los Angeles this week.
This first NZ-US service for the shiny new 777-300ER follows last week's appearance of the plane on flights between Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland.
AirNZ has not publicised these 'preview' flights – preferring to leave them unannounced in what an airline spokesperson described as "a ‘surprise-and-delight’ for customers who are lucky enough to be onboard the selected flights" (ahead of the 777-300ER entering regular service between Auckland and London via Los Angeles from April 1, 2011).
However, the airline's latest schedule shows the 777-300ER popping up as NZ6 from Auckland to Los Angeles this Wednesday, January 19.
This would then return to New Zealand as NZ5, departing Los Angeles at 10pm on Thursday January 20.
There's no guarantee that the 777-300ER will replace the regular 747-400 on those day or any other, of course... the same plane was appearing on the NZ6/NZ5 schedule for Sunday January 16, only to have the schedule changed to a 747 just two hours before departure.
So don't count on any NZ6/NZ5 being the 777-300ER until you set foot aboard the plane!
If your flight does turn out to be on the first of Air New Zealand's five factory-fresh 777-300ERs, the couple-friendly 'cuddle class' Skycouch won't be operational – it has yet to be approved by the US aviation authorities.
But if you've stumped for a business or premium economy ticket – or there are seats available and you're a ‘high value’ customers with Gold Elite, Gold or Silver frequent flyer status in AirNZ's Airpoints frequent flyer program – you'll be lucky enough to sample the new seats.
Most impressive of these is the premium economy 'Spaceseat', created by Air New Zealand and US design firm Ideo.
Arranged 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 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.
(For a sneak peek at the seats, check out our photo gallery).
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 premium economy Spaceseats have been licensed by the carrier for sale to other airlines as business class product.
"Boeing has indicated they’re interested in the (Spaceseats) as a business class option for their 737 range" says Ed Sims, AirNZ’s Group General Manager International. “This is a game-changing product for premium economy which will have our competitors playing catch up for several years."
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," Fyfe enthuses. "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."