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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Air New Zealand new longhaul - Premium Economy

By increasing the size of premium economy to 50 on the 77Ws compared to 39 on 747s (and 36 on 77Es) Air NZ is betting on this being a class for substantial growth. The new premium economy class looks like it will be setting new standards for this class.

New Premium Economy on 777-300ER

It's fair to say Air NZ's existing premium economy hard product didn't involve much imagination. On 747s it is the economy class seat, with an inch or so more width, and much more seat pitch with double the recline. However, it is in essence, the same recaro economy class seat. One of the advantages has been the cabins, with the upper deck and the small side cabins in front of economy on 747s offering quietness and exclusivity in themselves, as well as side storage bins for luggage.

However, on 77Es premium economy is about legroom, with 10 inches more seat pitch and more recline, but the same width. The 3-3-3 configuration on existing 777s has been criticised for being below the standard of other airlines with premium economy. Notably BA's 77Es have a 2-4-2 configuration with wider seats. Air NZ is quite wrong in its press release claiming 3-3-3 is the industry standard for premium economy.

I had predicted Air NZ would remove a seat in each row for premium economy, but it has gone much further. It is now 2-2-2. Only BMI offers such a configuration in premium economy, and it doesn't fly anywhere near NZ (and it is basically offering its old business class).

The new seats are in hard shells and face away from each other, creating a degree of privacy. A key innovation is that pairs of seats can either be treated as separate, or the space between them used for couples to share meals or to lounge. These options help to establish the product as being seriously superior to economy.

Instead of a footrest, passengers get a beanbag to rest their feet on, which will be interesting to see how successful it might be.

The degree of recline is not a step up from the current product though, it is 9". That sadly does not bring it up to the level of BMI's A330s, and only matches the likes of Qantas. There is no doubt this is a better seat than Qantas, but to really be an economy version of business class it would need to offer a recline of around 45 degrees to passengers.

However, the seat pitch is apparently 36" according to the LOPA. Given premium economy on 747s is currently 38" and on 777s it is 42", this is a significant sacrifice of legroom. Maybe the configuration makes up for this, but we will have to see.

All in all it looks good, offers more comfort and privacy, but an alternative to business class it isn't. By no means is this a substitute for a lie flat bed, or indeed given some airlines offer cheap deals in business class (though usually not fully lie flat products), that would be preferable to premium economy.

Verdict: A serious improvement to the previous product, with wider more private seats, more flexibility and a improvement in catering. It would get an "A" if the pitch wasn't being sacrificed, but it is. So I'm going to say a B.


John said...


Although I agree that at 36" the legroom does not look fantastic, I think with the hard shell it will be an improvement. We normally want legroom to educe the effect of the chair in front reclining. As the seat in front will not recline back then hopefully 36" will be enough.

libertyscott said...

Yes I agree, I look forward to giving it a go.