Executive Traveller exclusive
Air New Zealand is radically relaunching international business class across its Boeing 787 fleet, and Executive Traveller has your first look at the new seats and suites – yes, we’re talking about spacious well-appointed Luxe suites which transform the first row of Business Premium into an even more premium experience.
But the Star Alliance member isn’t stopping there: the tip to-tail makeover embraces a fresh take on premium economy and introduces the world’s first full-length lie-flat beds in economy, in the form of innovative ‘Skynest’ sleeping bunks.
Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 787 Business Premier seats
The NZ flag-carrier’s 20-year old sleeper shells, with their narrow confines and a steep rake that sees many passengers facing one another like commuters on a bus, are finally on the way out – although they’ve got another two years in the sky before the 2024 Business Premier seats take wing.
But these new seats will be worth the wait.
Air New Zealand has adopted an admittedly more conventional layout, although with an all-new design which shifts the cabin from open space to your own space, and from the communal to the individual.
Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 787 Business Premier Luxe suites
Beyond those Business Premier seats, all Boeing 787-9s will be crowned by a row of more spacious and private Business Premier Luxe suites at the very front of the business class cabin.
While the core features of the Business Premier seat and the Business Premier Luxe suite are identical, the Business Premier Luxe suite boasts the following additions:
- a fully private suite, accomplished by two sliding partitions
- additional space for you to stretch out
- a ‘buddy seat’ where a companion can sit and share a meal, a glass of wine or a game of cards
- a larger meal table, also made with companion dining in mind
- soft product such as a Merino wool ‘throw’
While Air New Zealand says it entertained Luxe suite options such as “a personal wardrobe or a mini-bar, the strong feedback we got was ‘just give us extra space’.”
Air New Zealand will price its Business Premier Luxe suites at a premium over standard business class, although the airline’s not yet revealed how much extra high flyers will have to pay for this primo pew.
The standard Business Premier seat is also fitted with a sliding panel which extends along the seat’s shelf next to the aisle. providing an extra degree of privacy for passengers without fully enclosing their space.
The shell surrounding the Business Premier seats and suites stands 47” off the floor, with the sliding doors and panels at 45” high.
Standard features of all Business Premier business class seats include
- a storage cabinet with a mirror inside the door
- a spacious side shelf
- a ‘trinket tray’ for stowing your phone, watch, jewellery and other oddments
- a deep storage pocket with plenty of room to keep iPad or a small handbag within easy reach
- USB-A, USB-C and AC power outlets
- wireless charging for smartphones, headphones and the like
- a massive 24” personal video screen
- Bluetooth audio streaming to your own cordless headphones or earbuds
- a bed slightly longer than the current business class seat, which in sleep mode will be dressed with a memory foam mattress and feather pillow
- the seat can also be put into a reclined position for the taxi, take-off and landing stages of the journey
Business Premier seats located on either side of the plane are angled slightly inwards, but still close enough to the window to enjoy the view; the paired middle seats face slightly outwards, towards the aisle, although a sliding panel lets you share the experience with your partner in the adjacent middle seat.
The cabin itself also sees a softer, gentler and more relaxing colour scheme which draws its tones, patterns and touches of iridescence from New Zealand’s native Tui bird.
Designing Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 787 Business Premier class
Although Air New Zealand began work on its next-generation business class in 2017, the first few years were primarily devoted to in-depth research on what its long-range travellers wanted, interspersed with scores of studies and mock-ups.
“There’s been over 170,000 design hours put into these new products and we've spent an enormous amount of time – in fact, 2,571 hours of customer research – and talking to our customers to figure out what it is they wanted from us” reflects Leanne Geraghty, Air Nw Zealand’s Chief Customer and Sales Officer.
This included “speaking with experts in their field… and of course live customer testing, bringing in our most frequent flyers and key stakeholders to do live testing. And that has been incredibly valuable, they’ve told us what's really important to them.”
Rest and sleep, privacy and space all came to the fore, Geraghty says.
“I don't think that would come as a surprise to anyone, but that's what our customers told us.”
Armed with this data, the carrier made the rounds of the world’s leading aircraft seat developers, eventually settling on a new design from French-based multinational Safran Seats.
Air New Zealand is the prestigious global launch customer for this platform, which Safran developed under the codename of Fantail and has since christened Visa.
“(Visa) was born from our Advanced Concept Team where we look at new designs and innovations,” Safran Seats exec Victoria Foy tells Executive Traveller.
“We shared this particular project with Air New Zealand in 2019 and they really liked it, so we worked in strong collaboration with them to evolve it into the (finished) product they wanted, to fit their needs… they really emphasised to us the importance of comfort and sleep for their passengers.”
“When you're travelling away from home, the first night you’re away is actually the most challenging night to get a restful sleep,” Geraghty adds.
“So everything that we've put on board the aircraft is really about instilling a sense of calm and creating the right environment for our customers to get some rest – from the lighting and sleep ritual including sleepy teas and balms, to the healthier food choices and breathable fabrics.”
Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 787 Business Premier rollout
The new Business Premier and Business Premier Luxe suites will be fitted across the entire Boeing 787-9 fleet across 2024-2026, along with the yet-to-be-delivered Boeing 787-10s – but not the Boeing 777s, which the airline plans to retire before this decade is done.
For the Boeing 787-9s, Air New Zealand will roll out two configurations:
- a standard layout will contain 22 Business Premier seats in a single cabin, topped by a Row 1 of four Business Premier Luxe suites, will cover most short- to medium-range routes including Asia
- an ultra-long range layout – dominated by new Dreamliner deliveries – will see 42 Business Premier seats across two cabins, with the first row of each cabin containing four Business Premier Luxe suites (for a total of eight suites); these jets will focus on marathon US routes such as New York and Chicago, and will also sport the radical Economy Skynest bunks.
Moving from the airline’s current three-across Business Premier configuration to this 1-2-1 layout delivers a noticeable increase in business class capacity, and allied with a 52-seat premium economy cabin, the airline notes that its ultra-long range Dreamliner will have almost the same premium cabin capacity as its larger Boeing 777-300ER jets.
David Flynn travelled to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand