The economy seats in Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner may look like nothing special, but they represent a new angle in seat design – quite literally so.
The seats have all been inclined by one inch from the regular upright position that's typically used for take-off and landing. In other words, from the moment you get into the seat it's already reclined.
This is intended to not only make passengers more comfortable but reduce the instance of passengers reclining their seat early in the flight and encroaching on the space of those seated behind them.
It’s a small change which makes a big difference.
Air New Zealand ’s Boeing 787 program director Kerry Reeves thumbed his way through the catalogue of economy seats offered for the Dreamliner – a collection of seats all pre-approved by Boeing to be fitted as the 787 is being built – but “we just didn’t like what was being offered,” Reeves recalls.
“We thought we could improve that markedly, which we have” he tells Australian Business Traveller.
Reeves settled on a seat from Zodiac Aerospace – the company also chosen to supply the airline's Boeing 787 premium economy seat – but then set about customising it.
“The takeoff and landing position of the seat we felt was too upright and that prompts people to then want to recline sooner” Reeves says. “So we preset the seat one inch back for the takeoff and landing.”
This made Air New Zealand the first airline to provide its own economy seating for the 787, rather than adopt Boeing’s strictly off-the-plan approach – a decision typical of the Kiwi airline’s continued propensity to punch above its weight.
The modification meant the seat in its revised form had to be re-tested and certified for the Boeing 787, “but it’s much, much more comfortable now than we ever had before and than what other airlines have” Reeves explains.
The airline and Zodiac held studies and testing on the reclined seat, Reeves recounts, “and we noticed a marked change in people’s need to feel they wanted to recline over the standard seat.”
The seat’s actual recline has therefore been reduced to five inches, which might sound short when comparing against the cheap seats on other airlines – “but remember, our starting position is one inch further back” says Reeves.
“What was originally a 6 inch recline is now a 5 inch recline but you actually end up back as far as you would have been with six inches.”
These same economy seats will also be fitted to the airline’s upgraded Boeing 777-200 jets.
Air New Zealand's Boeing 787-9 economy cabin
Towards the front of the economy cabin are 14 of the fold-out Skycouch seats distributed between rows 36 to 43.
Travellers can purchase the remaining seats from each block of three and flip up an extended legrest to create a flat sofa-like lounge which doubles as a short bed.
Throughout the cabin the economy seats are arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration, with the exception of row 34 which contains only two seats – 34J and 34K – side by side at the very front right of the economy cabin.
Each seat is a slim 17.2 inches – sitting in the middle seat there’s a noticeable tendency to tuck your arms in so the elbows can sit on the slim armrests, and we’d honestly hate to have to sit like that for the full 8+ hours of AirNZ’s planned Dreamliner flights.
The window seat should provide some relief from the sideways squeeze but the curved sidewall also seems to push into a traveller’s personal space, while the seat’s mounting bracket steals some floor space from your feet.
If you get two or ever three seats to yourself, the armrest will swing all the way up into the gap between seats and also stays flush when you recline the seats.
Seat pitch varies from 31 inches to 33 inches depending on where the seat is located within the cabin.
31 inches sounds like a bit of a squeeze but these are slimline seats which free up a little bit more legroom and knee-room, so the result is sufficient for international economy.
The seats are quite comfortable, with a sculptured back for greater lumbar support and a headrest which travels both higher and lower than the current economy seat while notched detents on the twin upright rails keep the headrest firmly in position.
The 11 inch screen tilts up for better viewing and contains USB and headphone sockets.
There are two AC power outlets for every three seats so we doubt there’ll be an outbreak of inflight socket wars.
The last four middle rows of economy seating – rows 62 through to 65, seats D, E and F – are directly underneath the Boeing 787's crew rest area, where cabin crew steal some sleep between shifts.
This means there's no overhead luggage bins above those seats, so travellers who find themselves down the very back of this Boeing bus will need to cram their carry-on into the bins assigned to passengers in the window seats.
Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 will begin flying between Auckland and Sydney on Saturday August 9, ahead of its official debut on the Auckland-Perth route in October, with Shanghai and Tokyo to follow by the end of this year (once the airline takes delivery of two more Dreamliners in September and October).
Australian Business Traveller travelled on the Boeing 787-9 delivery flight from Seattle to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand and Boeing.
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