Jan 26, 2010

Air NZ goes flat out in economy

A sensational new idea in economy class seating was shown off by Air New Zealand this morning. It turns 22 sets of triple seats in its new Boeing 777-300ERs into an optional doub

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Flat out and united on Air NZ, publicity image
Flat out and united on Air NZ, publicity image

A sensational new idea in economy class seating was shown off by Air New Zealand this morning.

It turns 22 sets of triple seats in its new Boeing 777-300ERs into an optional double sleeping space, with conversion of all its recently delivered 777s to offer this format in the near future.

A detailed report has just appeared in the New Zealand media.

Each of these triple sets, the first 11 window sets on each side of the cabin, costs around 2.5 times a standard economy fare. The value proposition can be calibrated from the report, which quotes a set, shared by two people, as costing around $NZ 7600 for a return flight to London, compared to $NZ 6000 for a single seat in a revamped premium economy product, or $NZ 10,000 in an ‘improved’ version of its current premium business class sleeper seats.

(And for sure, those fares seem rather less than they would be from Australia, but they are in NZ dollars and don’t seem to include taxes and levies.)

So couples, or maybe one big passenger who wants to save on a business class sleeper, can save a lot of money by buying three economy seats with a design that fills in the floor space with a reasonably level sleeping base.

This design is like a call to arms, no, a call to legs, for the travel masses, those downtrodden, spurned, crushed and despised inhabitants of what some jerks in airline marketing patronisingly call ‘cattle class’. Air NZ has struck a blow for relevancy, and deserves some sort of humanitarian recognition for getting their priorities aligned with the needs of the oppressed masses.

New premium economy is the roomiest ever in a 777
New premium economy is the roomiest ever in a 777

It will be interesting to see how this works for the premium economy product, (above), which has been upgraded to a six-across format in three sets of wide double seats with a slight herringbone offset that appears to increase legroom but not convert into a flat bed.

The changes to the premium business class sleeper are overdue (below) but for my money, a seat that doesn’t allow a proper window view is disconcerting, and while it trumps the much criticised dimensions of similar seats on Cathay Pacific jets, it doesn’t appear space competitive against the Singapore Airlines long haul business class.

No window, no cigar...but looks better, the Air NZ premium sleeper
No window, no cigar...but looks better, the Air NZ premium sleeper

Now, how do consumers go about persuading Air New Zealand to resume non-stop flights to the US from Australia with the economy sleeper option?

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7 thoughts on “Air NZ goes flat out in economy

  1. Kevin Herbert

    I traveled more than 1 million kilometre’s on business between Oz & the USA & Western Europe in the 90’s.

    After nearly 2 years of back-breaking travel in business class sit-up chairs, I used to buy three economy, window aisle seats in peak season to Europe on KLM & Singapore, which cost around $300 more than the business class fare (sitting up) on a 747. On my flights to the US via LA or SF I would buy 4 middle row seats on a United or AirNZ jumbo for $1200 less than the then cost of $7100 for a business class (sitting up) seat.

    No brainer, given that I was doing up to 5 trips a year.

    I remember a KLM purser telling me that in 20 years of flying, he’d not seen one traveller buy bulk economy seats before.

  2. clivedorman

    Air New Zealand, along with Thai, Malaysian and Air China was once an industry-leading carrier in offering economy passengers 34-inch (86cms) seat pitch. Now there’s little difference between ANZ and the rest. When ANZ introduced the Boeing 777:200ER, it also introduced an industry-leading business class lie-flat bed of 79.5-inch pitch, abolishing its former first class (Qantas J-bed is 60″). This was made possible by emasculating its economy-class pitch from 34″ to as little as 31″ (same as Qantas) depending on the aircraft. According to the briefing given this week, the economy pitch on the new 773s is 84 cms (33″), almost imperceptibly different from V Australia (32″) and Qantas (31″). New products like “Skycouch”, whose only innovation is a redesigned footrest raised to become part of the seat breadth in place of foot room, are being funded by the emasculation of Y-class pitch. According to NZ media, Air NZ hopes to attract a yield on Y-discount seats to Europe this winter of $2800 return, which would price a “Skycouch” at $7600 return (for two people – “50% off” middle seat). There may be slight variations between Aus and NZ currencies, but Air NZ appears to be attempting to sell a very high-priced economy product, which, I think, will cannibalise its premium economy and business yield and will not be attractive at all to most of us, who don’t have money to spend on travel luxuries.

  3. Bogdanovist

    Interesting, but I wonder how comfortable a 14 hour spooning session in what is effectively less than the width of single bed would be? That guys shoulder is going to lose circulation after an hour or so, not to mention the rest of his arm. Presumably seat belts still need to be worn by both people, which would be a bit awkward unless they have cleverly designed anchor points.

    I’m not entirely sure that this wouldn’t make some people a little uncomfortable as well, being surrounding by canoodling couples for a whole flight?

  4. IanDouglas

    clivedorman’s comments invite a little more discussion on both economy class legroom and business class products. The economy story involves more than the raw legroom number. Improved seat back profile and thinner foam can quickly match the difference of another inch of legroom – but the bigger issue by far is the inflight entertainment system boxes that eat into legroom. Singapore Airlines B777-200ER nominally offers 34in of legroom – but sit in seat C/D/H in any row and you are sharing your legroom with a bulky metal box. If you have the chance to pre-assign your seat – watch out for these space invaders. Another one to watch is Emirates – where the B777 aircraft are 10 abreast rather than 9. Any comfort from 33in of legroom is lost on seats 1-2in narrower than competitors. Ultimately price competition generally dictates a need to make best use of limited real-estate.

    In business class the common product for side-by-side seats (Qantas,Singapore/Thai/ Lufthansa….) has been 60in length and 22in width for some time. Herringbone patterns (Air NZ, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic….) often trade away a little width, but generally provide greater personal space. The competitive challenge to this product has come from Qantas and Singapore Airlines’ A380s with completely forward facing flat beds that offer both legroom and width.

    A comparison (price and features) of Air NZ’s new economy product with Air Asia X’s new premium seat will be interesting.

  5. clivedorman

    @IanDouglas: Ian, I made the assumption that, after 5-8 years, the Recaro “Slimline” seat, which Qantas uses and does, as you say, give the passenger an additional one inch of pitch, is now the industry standard not the exception. I stand to be corrected if I’m wrong. CD.

  6. LongTimeObserver


    A couple (for how much longer, after this experience?) pays 1.25 times the economy fare to be folded and spindled while risking ankle amputation by dodge’em bumper carts due to a too-short seat span?

    Say it ain’t so!

  7. Tweets that mention Air NZ goes flat out in economy – Plane Talking -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Granatta and Niklas Lindstrom, Mircea Turcan. Mircea Turcan said: RT @danigranatta, @niklaslindstrom: Flat double bed in economy class on long haul flights. Brilliant Air New Zealand! http://bit.ly/c0wY7b […]

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