Air New Zealand’s next-gen 787 gets a big boost to business class

Air New Zealand is designing its next wave of Dreamliners with more business and premium economy seats than ever before.

By David Flynn, September 23 2022
Air New Zealand’s next-gen 787 gets a big boost to business class

Due to arrive from late 2024, the Boeing 787-9s will have 42 new-look Business Premier suites split across two cabins, each topped by four cost-extra Business Premier Luxe suites.

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).

Air New Zealand's new Business Premier Luxe suite.
Air New Zealand's new Business Premier Luxe suite.

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.

Air New Zealand's third-gun 787s will sport a massive business class cabin.
Air New Zealand's third-gun 787s will sport a massive business class cabin.

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.

Air New Zealand's new premium economy seat.
Air New Zealand's new premium economy seat.

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.”

Air New Zealand's popular Economy Skycouch.
Air New Zealand's popular Economy Skycouch.

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.

Air New Zealand's radical Economy Skynest bunk beds.
Air New Zealand's radical Economy Skynest bunk beds.

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.

Air New Zealand's premium-heavy Boeing 787 'Code 3' layout.
Air New Zealand's premium-heavy Boeing 787 'Code 3' layout.

“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.”

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 167

NZ 787 higher premium config will be C27/W33/Y215 apparently compared to 18/21/263 for low premium, much more like 77Es with 26/40/246.  Guessing the whole first cabin (between the doors) with be C, pushing PE and one and a half rows extra into the middle cabin. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2017

Total posts 38

Very interesting that they're pushing their new 78's to HOU. Their 78's are crewed and run by their 'midhaul' crew meaning they do little further than PVG or NRT flying, and are more employed/renumerated for PER/HNL type flying. This also free's up 1 or 2 772/3's (maybe just the one given HOU isn't currently daily). Tbf, their 777's are AWFUL with the 3-4-3 abrest and would not recommend so this makes for a much nicer gateway city to the states if choosing to fly that way. 

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 60

The Air NZ Business class seat barely fits in the 787: I recently sat in it to Honolulu.


As we all know, it's the decade-old Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite, but even after all these years it feels more open and spacious than the latest QF and VA beds.

But not on the 787.

On the 787 it is orientated almost perpendicular to the cabin wall, with the result that it is extremely narrow around the shoulders. You need to be a gymnast or a contortionist to use the little drinks tray and reading light next to your shoulder.

It's a worthy attempt to harmonise the long-haul product, but it's only really fit for sleeping.

Premium Economy is a problem too. It's just nowhere near as nice as the old 777 Spaceseat it replaced. It's gone downhill from 2-2-2 on a wider 777 to 2-3-2 on a narrower 787.

Passengers who fly enough to notice a uniform product across the fleet can also tell if it is a higher-density less comfortable seat!

UA *Gold Lifetime

18 Dec 2015

Total posts 10

Can we talk about the decision to face passengers into the aisle? WHY??????

I love flying.

I love to look out the window. 

I don’t really crave aisles views. 

Just my ten cents 

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 142

Premium heavy for sure - 6 different seating classes plus the Skynest. Certainly choice to be had by the traveler but in a way rather complicated for logistics. However certainly an improvement over Qantas's proposed A350 tight and claustrophobic configuration. 

The skycouch I believe to be the pick of the bunch!


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