Air New Zealand remains committed to premium economy Spaceseat

By David Flynn, December 31 2013
Air New Zealand remains committed to premium economy Spaceseat

Air New Zealand says it has plenty of faith in the airline’s unique premium economy Spaceseat, despite the award-winning design being dropped from the Kiwi flag-carrier’s new Boeing 787 fleet and forthcoming Boeing 777-200ER refit.

Read: Boeing 787-9 headed to Auckland, Australia in January

Created by Air NZ and US design firm Ideo, and often praised as the world’s best premium economy product, the Spaceseat was developed with both the Boeing 777-300ER and 787-9 Dreamliner in mind.

However, the highly-touted seat was launched on the flagship Boeing 777-300ER in a knee-crushing layout which eventually saw Air New Zealand remove an entire row from the cabin in order to give other premium economy passengers an extra four to six inches of legroom.

“Air New Zealand remains committed to the Spaceseat on our 777-300 fleet” a spokeswoman for the airline told Australian Business Traveller.

This will include the two new Boeing 777-300ERs due for delivery next year, which Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon says “will be configured exactly as the current five we have, and that makes sense.” 

“Our 777-300 is perfectly configured for North America, predominately” Luxon told Australian Business Traveller earlier this year on the sidelines of a Star Alliance press briefing.

“We’ve got a good and quite efficient economy, our premium economy product is very good, and Business Premier is outstanding.”

Air New Zealand's innovative premium economy Spaceseat
Air New Zealand's innovative premium economy Spaceseat

But while the airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner fleet will boast the same Business Premier seat, Air New Zealand has opted for a premium economy seat from airline seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace.

While reportedly drawn from Boeing’s own ‘off the rack’ catalogue of pre-approved Dreamliner seats – which can be fitted as the aircraft is assembled rather than afterwards, making for a faster and less expensive rollout than the alternative of having the seats installed later on – the airline says it has worked with Zodiac "on a customised seat".

Read: Air New Zealand reveals Boeing 787 routes, seating

'Business-lite' rather than 'economy plus'

Luxon says the new premium economy seat, which has been sourced from US seat designer Zodiac, remains a cut above the rest of the industry – even if it’s not a Spaceseat.

Air New Zealand's premium economy seat for the Boeing 787
Air New Zealand's premium economy seat for the Boeing 787

“It’s a really good premium economy, I think others come at this from an ‘economy plus’ angle” he said, with the airline tagging the seat as a ‘Business-lite’ product with an ink-coloured luxury leather seat, 41” pitch, 5” wide armrest and a leg rest and extendable foot support.

Luxon says the same seat will likely also appear on next year’s upgrade of its long-range Boeing 777-200ER fleet, which is used on numerous trans-Tasman flights between Australia and Auckland as well as its long-distance services.

All eight aircraft will “being completely rebuilt with brand new seats all through the cabins".

“The thought is that with the 787-9s and the 777-200 refurb it will make sense for us to get an off-the-rack (premium economy) seat” Luxon explains.

“All of them will have premium economy, but probably the 777-200 and the 787-9 will have the same premium economy, which will be different from the 777-300”.

Like the factory-fresh 787-9 Dreamliners, the refurbished 777-200ER will lead with Business Premier and also several rows of the fold-down Skycouch seating in economy.

The 777-200ER refresh will also include an all-new inflight entertainment system using touchscreens.

Air New Zealand says the first of its eight 777-200s will go under the knife in the second quarter of 2014, “with all eight aircraft planned to be completed in the following 12 months.”

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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.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 527

I found the Premium Economy seat on NZ didn't live up to the hype. I flew them a couple of months ago and the white seat looked dirty and the angle meant my foot was in the aisle most of the time so I had to keep moving it whenever someone walked past. I think the idea was good but the execution not so much.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 50

Seems like an odd choice to have 2 different types of Premium Economy, epsecially the effort they went to with the Space Seat, screams cost cutting.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2012

Total posts 41

It looks like a very awkward looking seat to me. What's the recline like?

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 527

It was okay.. better than Economy but the Qantas product and the Cathay Pacific products are better and more comfortable.

 I get annoyed when airlines are not consistent with their product. Too confusing for me. 

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 543

"We’ve got a good and quite efficient economy, our premium economy product is very good, and Business Premier is outstanding."

The Economy seats aren't really good.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 783

They're good for the airline, not the passenger. :/

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 167

I am betting that the first cabin refresh of the 777-300s will seen the SpaceSeats removed.  Quite simply unless NZ knows it can command a serious premium in fares over the seats about to go in the 787s, these will be dropped because of one overwhelming issue - weight.

NZ's bespoke cabin design programme was an almost complete disaster.   Besides the tweaks to Business Premier and the Skycouch, everything else has not met expectations.  Not even the new economy seats are going in the 787 or 777-200s.   The new galley/catering concept failed in execution and was cancelled a few months after launch, and the Spaceseats needed a row removed to make them civilised rather than claustrophobic (which they were), knocking the economics of these very heavy seats substantially.

The lesson is that while it seems cool and clever to be innovative in-house, it risks missing key points - like the details of pitch, weight and doing time and motion studies of how it works on board.

NZ has concealed this well, but a bit of journalism would discover what a debacle this all was.

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