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Friday, December 24, 2010

Air NZ receives first new Boeing 777-300ER with new long haul product

Air NZ's first new Boeing 777-300ERs, intended to replace its Boeing 747-400 fleet, has arrived equipped with its new long haul product.

Air NZ's first Boeing 777-300ER
The term "cuddle class" has been unofficially coined for Air New Zealand's new economy class offering, which promises to be the most revolutionary change to economy class since personal in flight entertainment screens.

Sample of Air NZ's new premium economy and economy seats

Details about the new products were outlined on this blog before with the key points being:
- The front Economy Class cabin having the window portions of rows convertible into SkyCouch, with three seats convertible into a bunk/sofa across the width of the seats;
- A general upgrade of Economy Class seating, except for squeezing in a 10th seat into the 777 making the seats less than an inch narrower than on existing 747s and 777s;
- Premium Economy in a 2-2-2 configuration in new private hard shell seats;
- A refresh of Business Premier with a softer mattress side; and
- Induction ovens to enable fresh food to be prepared.

The new Boeing 777-300ER will initially fly only on routes between Auckland and Melbourne and Brisbane for staff training and trials.  The SkyCouch wont be sold, neither will Premium Economy, although Air NZ frequent flyers with status in economy class may be upgraded to the new cabin at the time.   From mid January it will be introduced on the Auckland-Los Angeles route (NZ6/NZ5) although it will not be guaranteed until February when the second aircraft arrives.  From 1 April the third aircraft will allow deployment on the Auckland-Los Angeles-London Heathrow route (NZ2/NZ1).

Images of the interior are now available and it shows a fair bit of attention to detail.  Airline Reporter has an excellent collection here, with highlights being:
- Fully made up Skycouch;
- Another view of Skycouch with pillows, blanket and underlay;
- New Economy Class cabin looking forward, Skycouches on the side sections;
- Another view of new Economy Class cabin;
- New Premium Economy cabin looking back;
- Another view of new Premium Economy cabin;
- New Premium Economy seat;
- New Business Premier in sleep configuration;
- New Business Premier in seat configuration;
- New Business Premier cabin looking forward;
- New Business Premier amenity kit and table;
- New Business Premier cabin looking back.

Business Traveller also has an excellent Facebook photo album of the product development.

My view is that Skycouch is a revolutionary leap forward for couples or a parent with child travelling together who want to sleep.  It takes what some economy class passenger enjoy when flights are empty, a flat surface of several seats, and expands on it to guarantee it, by selling three seats for the price of 2.5.   That alone should be a revolutionary change for passengers in the back, and I wonder in particular, how popular it will be on the highly competitive Los Angeles-London route.

The rest of economy class passengers will have seats that have been redesigned with new headrests, pillows to slip over the headrests, fully retractable armrests, larger in flight entertainment screens (to the same size as business premier today) and the ability to order drinks and snacks on demand.   Pitch will be a compromise between the 747's 34" and the 32" on the existing 777s, at 33", but sadly seat width is being compromised to a tight 17", less than an inch narrower than existing seats (although as important, aisles are getting substantially tighter).  You see going 3-4-3 in a 777 is tight, and a step backwards compared to many airlines such as Singapore, Cathay and BA.   Still the proof will be in the trying.

The new Premium Economy seats are a leap forward, offering unprecedented privacy in this class, with the centre seats allowing people travelling together to share a table and face each other to eat.  The side seats offering particularly higher levels of privacy facing outwards towards windows.  The 36" seat pitch can't be the measure of legroom, as the staggered layout provides significantly more.  Also to be noted is the generous 2-2-2 configuration in terms of width, which is reportedly at 20", as much as some business classes.  The 9" recline is the same at present, but as with economy, the proof as to the comfort will be in trying it.   Again, enhanced entertainment screens and catering (with properly cooked food) should add to the experience.  I expect this will have to easily claim the title as the best premium economy class in the world today.

Business Premier is an upgauge of the current product.  Whilst I'll enjoy softer surfaces and small enhancements, the big change is fully on demand eating, with fully cooked food as well as fresh toast and eggs.   For me the one thing that Business Premier will lack is the ambience of the nose cabin on the 747 or the front of the upper deck, but that is what happens when 777s replace 747s.   I expect the improved seat and the vastly improved catering will keep Air NZ as one of my favourites in business class.

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