Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 economy seat review

By David Flynn, August 4 2014
Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 economy seat review

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.

Read: Testing Air New Zealand's Skycouch on the 777-300ER

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).

Also read: our reviews of Air New Zealand's Boeing 787-9 business class and premium economy

Australian Business Traveller travelled on the Boeing 787-9 delivery flight from Seattle to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand and Boeing.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

04 Jan 2014

Total posts 40

The standard seat one inch incline is a great idea, as nothing worse? than just starting a flight and the pax in front immediately fully incline their seat(sort of feel like a dentist....) 31" pitch seats are quite squeezy though for an international carrier. May feel ok first few hours, but several hours in during the night, especially if in the middle seat with strangers, it all feels too cramped.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 211

Emirates have a lot to answer for as they have been one of the leaders in the race to deprive Y passengers of any semblance of comfort. I find lack of shoulder room the biggest gripe I have on most aircraft. Now even a so called innovative carrier is adding to the squeeze. I guess it shows that no matter the airline, the execs never sit in the middle seat of Y on long haul. As J amenities improve and grow, so shall Y shrink!

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 1

Great review

I'm booking seats for a 787-9 flight. Air New Zealand have already marked out SkyCouch seats when I go to select my seats, two rows I assumed were SkyCouches are not listed as SkyCouches - just Premium Economy. Yet flight maps on two different websites mark these rows as SkyCouches.

Are all 787-9 at Air New Zealand the same ?

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