Air New Zealand will offer passengers extra legroom in economy class at no added cost on trans-Tasman flights from late next month.
The move comes in response to criticism from business travellers and frequent flyers who regularly ply the skies between Australia and New Zealand – a route which carries almost 2.9 million passengers per year, or 10.9% of Australia’s total passenger movements.
AirNZ currently offers only economy class seating on the majority of its flights across the pond, with passengers on the 4-5 hour flight having to make do with between 30 and 31 inches of legroom.
But from late March a reconfiguration of the Kiwi flag carrier’s trans-Tasman Airbus A320 fleet will offer up to 35 inches of legroom in the first dozen rows.
Air New Zealand will promote the zone as Space+, the same brand it used for a previous ‘extra legroom’ cabin which was subsequently scrapped from most routes due to cost.
“We used to have a larger Space+ zone which was not economically viable, although it was appreciated by customers” says Cam Wallace, Air New Zealand‘s General Manager for Australia. “We’ve now changed that based on feedback from our high-value and corporate customers.”
Wallace told Australian Business Traveller that the first refitted A320 would enter service by “late March or very early April”, with the entire trans-Tasman fleet modified for Space+ by year’s end. “That’s obviously not a massive engineering change, it’s just pushing some seats back.”
The first 21 seats in the aircraft are said to have a pitch of 34-35 inches, with another 18 seats at 33 inches of legroom – which is still as much as three inches more legroom than the rest of the plane.
However, only Air New Zealand’s most frequent flyers will get the chance to stretch out – and they’ll need to have paid for one of the higher-priced Works or Works Deluxe economy tickets instead of the cheaper Seat or Seat+Bag fares.
Passengers holding Gold Elite and Gold status with AirNZ’s Airports rewards program and holding a Works or Works Deluxe ticket will be ‘automatically upgraded’ into Space+, Wallace told Australian Business Traveller.
Next on the list are members of the airline’s Koru Club, who must also be travelling on one of the two Works fares.
Once those three tiers of high-value customers have been bumped up, any remaining seats will be allocated to Gold Elite and Gold members of Airpoints who have bought a Seat or Seat+Bag ticket.
“It’s a standby basis,” Wallace explains. “If there’s a seat available we’ll put them into the Space+ zone at no charge.”
Want more legroom but don’t fall into one of those categories? You’re out of luck. Unlike US carrier Delta, which will offer its new Economy Comfort seats for US$80-$160 once full-fare economy tickets and Delta's Diamond and Platinum Medallion tier frequent flyers get looked after – Air New Zealand currently has no plans to offer the Space Plus seats at any price, Wallace says.
“There’s only a certain amount of seats and we have to manage demand – we don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver. If you’re of a certain status and buy a certain type of ticket we want to make sure you get up the front of the aircraft."