This compares to just 18 business class seats on the original 787-9, for which Air New Zealand was the prestigious launch customer, and 27 on a second-gen revision (it’s also only two pews short of the Boeing 777-300ER’s business class config).
This third variant – which Air New Zealand refers to as its 787-9 ‘Code 3’ layout – will be dedicated to deep US routes such as New York, Chicago and Houston, which Air New Zealand designates as “ultra long-range”, while the likes of Los Angeles and Vancouver are merely “long-range” runs.
“The new 787-9s coming in two years’ time are going to be really optimised for ultra-long haul flying,”Air New Zealand Captain and 787 Technical Pilot Phillip Kirk told Executive Traveller during the airline’s inaugural nonstop flight from Auckland to New York.
That means vastly reducing the number of seats – and skewing the mix towards higher-revenue premium passengers – to extend the aircraft’s reach, “because New York is definitely on the edge of the (current) aeroplane’s range,” Kirk explains.
That elongated business class zone will be followed by 52 premium economy seats – also with a fresh design – which is significantly more than the 33-seat count on the Kiwi carrier’s most recent Dreamliners.
That leaves room for just 120 economy seats – less than half of the first-gen Dreamliner’s 263-seat economy section, and also well short of the 215 economy seats on the airline’s Code 2 layout.
“You’ve got to go all the way to door 3 to find the economy section,” notes Kirk, “and that’s a long way back.”
The economy cabin also includes banks of Skycouch seats, extra-legroom Economy Stretch rows and the revolutionary Economy Skynest bunk beds, where passengers can pay their way into one of six pods with a two-metre long flatbed.
The need for these ultra-long range Dreamliners was brought into sharp relief when Air New Zealand was forced to leave behind the bags of some 60 passengers on the inaugural direct flight from New York to Auckland.
The strong headwinds on that southwest route already sees the airline leaving many economy seats deliberately unsold, as well as not carrying any cargo, to offset the weight demanded by the vast amount of jet fuel needed for the trip. But nature conspired against Air New Zealand by lobbing a cyclone in NZ1’s way.
“On Saturday’s inaugural flight we had to amend our flight plan to go around a forecast cyclone,” explains Air New Zealand Chief Operating Officer Alex Marren.
The temporary closure of the airline’s usual alternate NZ airport – the air force’s Ohakea Airbase – “also meant additional fuel was required in case of the need to divert from Auckland International.”
“In order to get all of our customers where they needed to be, the team took the unusual step of offloading around 65 bags to meet the load limits,” Marren says, while the jet carried only 202 passengers out of its 275-seat capacity.
Air New Zealand says while it “prioritised getting all of our customers safely to where they needed to be”, but “this is not the way we wanted things to run for our customers and we’ll be reviewing what lessons we can take to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”