Which class for business travel on Air New Zealand's new 777-300ER?

By John Walton, February 21 2011
Which class for business travel on Air New Zealand's new 777-300ER?

Last week, we brought you detailed first reviews from Air New Zealand's brand new Business Premier and Premium Economy Spaceseat cabins, plus the top five little-known improvements for passengers on the new 777-300ER planes.

The real question for business travellers and corporate travel departments is this: which class is most appropriate for me and for our staff, and why?

Answers to this question depend largely on distance. The plane will be used on routes from NZ to Australia and the world, and a four-hour trans-Tasman hop and a twenty-six hour slog to London are entirely different animals.

While we were on board, we discovered something very interesting buried deep in the in-flight entertainment: city guides to the as-yet-unannounced destinations for the 777-300ER plane.

The full list of destinations is:

  • Brisbane
  • Melbourne
  • Sydney
  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Vancouver

So, we'll split up our answers accordingly: trans-Tasman and trans-Pacific.

Trans-Tasman: Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney

If you need to get some serious work done, at an actual table that you can open a laptop on, then book Business Premier, which has a good-sized table that will fit a full-sized laptop and papers. There will come a point in the cost/benefit ratio where having the ability to work on the flight will trump the extra cost of Business Premier.

Premium Economy will be a squash: the tables open at a strange angle and aren't particularly good for working. The exception here is if you're in the six Spaceseats at the very front of the single cabin and can have the laptop on your knees. You might just get away with using a netbook or 11" laptop at a funny angle.

The only way you'll get a laptop open in Economy is on your knees in one of the bulkhead or exit row seats, or if you sit cross-legged and sideways in the Skycouch. (This also works if there's a spare seat next to you, but there's no way to count on that.) You'll barely be able to use an iPad in Economy if the person in front of you has reclined their seat.

Pricing hasn't been released for the trans-Tasman market yet, because Air New Zealand operates a low-cost carrier model on most of its trans-Tasman flights. It's a stretch to imagine that Business Premier would really be worth a hefty price increase over Premium Economy for short hops from NZ to Australia, but Premium Economy (or even the Skycouch) is probably worth it over Economy.

Trans-Pacific: San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Los Angeles

The Business Premier flat-bed really comes into its own on these 13 and 26 hour flights. The extra padding and quiet atmosphere means that you'll get a full night's sleep and be fresh for a meeting when you get off the plane.

Plus, the full-size work/dining table is big enough for two people: either for a working dinner, for a catch-up, or to have your laptop open to review documents while you're dining. Once dinner's over, there's more than enough room for a laptop and papers on the table.

Business travellers will find it exhausting to get straight off a flight in Premium Economy and go into a meeting. The seats recline less than the old Premium Economy seats, and the leg-room and knee-room problems mean that your sleep is likely to be disturbed if you're in an aisle seat. 

While there's some extra space, it's unlikely that you'll be able to get any serious work done either. As we mentioned above, the Premium Economy Spaceseat isn't really set up for working.

The only real option for a laptop is to use the squashy purple beanbag ottoman that's supposed to be a footrest as a laptop-rest on your knees instead.

Air New Zealand has done some great things on this plane, but Economy isn't among them. The new Economy is one of the worst in the sky for business travellers. 

The high-density ultra-cramped ten abreast seating is just unacceptably narrow. The new seats have cut off two inches of legroom compared with the old 747 seats -- and, what's worse, the enormous bulky boxes containing the in-flight entertainment hardware jut right out into your ankles and shins. 

Avoid it wherever possible: if you must fly Economy, fly on the older 747s and 777s, or on another airline, even if it involves a connection. Go via Asia to London, via Fiji or Australia to the US and Canada, or pick a flight with a different plane to Australia.

However, we mentioned in our review of the "cuddle class" Economy Skycouch that it's our surprising choice for cost-conscious business travellers taking a trip with a colleague. 

We were definitely not expecting to recommend it as a serious option -- and don't worry, we're not suggesting you and Pat from Accounting do any actual cuddling.

But the fact that the legrests that form half of the Skycouch can be fixed at a 45-degree angle makes the seat a much more comfortable sleep -- and the legrests are only in Skycouch seats.

You also get a mattress pad, a duvet, and a couple of proper full-sized pillows to split with Pat.

With the middle seat free, you've got more elbow room, and you can have a working dinner with a laptop in the middle table, or fix up a presentation on a laptop that you can both see. 

Plus, there's power in the Skycouch section, from rows 36-47 in the forward of the two Economy cabins. Between the two of you, there'll be three sockets available so you've got working electronics when you hit the ground. And, since the Skycouches are at the front of the Economy half of the plane, you'll be ahead of the herd getting off the plane.

But key to this being a good deal for business travellers is that the Skycouch is bookable as an Economy fare -- and with many companies still insisting on Economy fares despite the uptick in world economic fortunes, this might just get past the beancounters.

What do you think? Would you travel in cuddle class with a colleague? Tell us in the comments section below.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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