After five years in development, Air New Zealand has unveiled its game-changing new cabins with the lofty goal of providing “the best sleep in the sky” for every passenger. Karryon founder Matt Leedham joined an exclusive media preview in Auckland to check them out firsthand.
While the top-secret ‘Hangar 22’ isn’t hidden deep underground in a desert somewhere, Air New Zealand’s innovation lab still appears from the outside as a nondescript office building stealthily tucked away in an Auckland side street.
So getting rare access inside the nerve centre of Air New Zealand’s world of ideas was both a privilege and a treat for a hand-picked small group of salivating travel media who were invited ‘in’ to a pre-launch first look on Monday, 27 June.
Once through the usually ‘journo proof’ doors, we were welcomed into a space akin to James Bond’s gadget lab full of velvet-cloaked working cabin prototypes and walls adorned with colourful mood and sketched specification boards, fabrics, entertainment systems and screens.
So what did we discover?
Welcome to ‘The cabin of possibilities’
Air New Zealand is on a mission to transform the cabin experience to meet the evolved needs of tomorrow’s world traveller.
Officially announced to the world on 29 June 2022, the new (seven-class) cabin range includes Business Premier Luxe, Business Premier, Premium Economy, Economy and Economy Stretch, Economy Skycouch and Skynest (first announced in 2020), the world’s first sleep pods in the sky for Economy travellers.
With eight new Dreamliners due in 2024 and a plan for more ultra-long-haul routes beginning with direct Auckland to New York flights from September 2022, the development team asked travellers, “What would make a long-haul flight better?”
The overwhelming customer response from the get-go was the importance of sleep and the need for more comfort and space.
In response, Air New Zealand says its new world-class cabins will primarily offer customers more ‘possibilities’ than any other airline to provide the best sleep in the sky regardless of the cabin customers choose to fly in.
“Whether we are welcoming visitors or flying New Zealanders home, we want our customers to experience Aotearoa from the moment they step on board – and get the best night’s rest,” says Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty.
The ‘Cabin of possibility’ at first glance
The new cabins are a massive overhaul in every possible respect.
The first significant change is that the now 15-year-old Herringbone design in the Air New Zealand Business cabin will soon become aviation history.
Instead, the new Business cabin has levelled up with other premium offerings to a forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration.
Moving away from the Herringbone design will be a welcome change for most, with the vastly added privacy, comfort and space a game-changer for Business Premier Luxe and Business Premier travellers.
The cabin’s interior design is inspired by the uniqueness of Aotearoa, from the forest-inspired carpet to the seats that draw inspiration from New Zealand’s native bird, the Tui.
All three cabins have a beautiful, understated feel with a paired back colour palette, clean lines and LED lighting to add to the relaxed vibe as passengers experience different phases of their journeys.
Sustainability has also been at the heart of the design process. Using modern fabrics rather than leather has saved around one kilogram in weight per Business Premier and Premium Economy seat, reducing overall carbon emissions.
In Premium cabins, the airline will also switch to serviceware that is 20 per cent lighter to help further reduce load and carbon emissions. In Economy, the new serviceware will reduce plastic dishes used inflight by 28 million annually.
Fasten your seatbelts. It’s time to explore each new seat class.
Business Premier Luxe
Pitched as ‘The best sleep in the sky,’ this all-new offering, aka ‘Mini first-class’, is for premium customers looking for the ultimate space and privacy.
It’s an authentic luxury experience with a flatbed, fully closing door and space for two to dine.
The Business Premier Luxe seat feels hugely expansive with so much room to stretch out, work, store your things and enjoy an overly generous LCD screen that screams “35,000 feet movie marathon in style.”
The new Business seat is (literally) a giant step forward from the previous Business Premier Herringbone design. It is a spacious, comfortable, private nest for a blissful journey anywhere.
If you’re travelling with a companion, the middle row allows you to open your ‘nest’ or slider and chat.
The seat naturally transforms into a lie-flat bed and features a large LCD screen, plenty of space to put your gadgets and ample room to work.
With an ergonomic shell design, a fantastic recline that won’t interrupt the person behind you and a 19-inch seat width, the new Premium Economy seat will be one of the best in the market for treat-seekers and business travellers alike.
The set-up will be a 2-3- configuration.
How good is it when a concept (first announced in 2020) actually comes to life? Say hello to the world’s first sleep pods in the sky, Skynest.
“We wanted to offer our Economy customers a lie-flat option and that’s how Skynest was born. It’s going to be a real game-changer for the economy travel experience,” says Greg Foran, CEO of Air New Zealand.
Stretch out in one of six pods for part of your journey and catch some shut-eye. The ‘game-changer’ phrase often gets overused, but in this instance, it’s bang on.
At 196 cm, I consider my tent pole legs to be the acid test for any seat pitch review and was pleasingly surprised at the space afforded up there on the top bunk. It’s snug, but having the option to lie flat and sleep for a good portion of a 14-plus hour sector on an economy ticket? Yes, please.
The Skynests will create a transformed inflight experience for economy travellers, and kids will especially love them.
The six individual pods will be available for Premium Economy and Economy travellers in 4-hour blocks, presumably at an extra cost though this wasn’t specified.
Another favourite has been upgraded for more comfort and space. Use the Skycouch the way you want. Sit, spread out, or lie down and snooze. Share the space or keep it all to yourself.
An already popular favourite is about to go next level.
It’s all in the name. With a stretch zone pitch of 35 inches (an extra 4 inches compared to Economy), this seat is for those who want to stretch their legs further, thanks to a clever design.
Another game-changer. The economy makeover here is a highly welcome one with an enhanced seat designed for comfort, more storage and space and a whopping 50 per cent bigger screen for your viewing pleasure.
Sitting in the seat, I was pleasingly surprised at the level of space afforded.
Another cool feature in all the seats, including Economy, will be that you can connect to Bluetooth audio and pair your device as a remote control or second screen.
The airline has also added a Sky Pantry to the Premium Economy and Economy cabins, so customers can stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat and hydrate at their leisure throughout their journey.
“Research shows us the first night away from home is the hardest to get a good night’s sleep so everything we do onboard is to help create a sense of calm – from the lighting and sleep ritual including sleepy teas and balms to the healthier food choices and breathable fabrics. Meditative onscreen content, Zentertainment, will also help customers unwind and get ready for rest,” said Ms Geraghty.
A reported 170,000 design hours have gone into this mammoth project over five years.
Three hundred and eighty-four customers were intrinsically involved throughout the journey to create the brief and expectations and share their feedback as the cabin designs have progressed from nose to tail.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran says the airline’s ambition to create the most outstanding flying experience and the new cabin, combined with world-leading Kiwi hospitality, is the winning formula.
“It’s a proud moment to finally unveil five years of hard mahi in what truly is a cabin of possibility. One that will provide customers with options to get some shut-eye wherever they’re sitting.”
“New Zealand’s location puts us in a unique position to lead on the ultra-long-haul travel experience. We have zeroed in on sleep, comfort, and wellness because we know how important it is for our customers to arrive well-rested. Whether they are heading straight into a meeting, or to their first-holiday hotspot – they want to hit the ground running.
Yet again, and true to its innovative brand DNA, Air New Zealand is proving that it is a customer-led carrier that is not afraid to significantly change the game in its original way and make a prominent mark on the world.
After trying the seats myself, I was hugely impressed with all of the offerings and the sustainable and innovative approach to the entire cabin innovation.
Having a choice is everything and Air New Zealand have come up with creative ways and possibilities to solve travellers’ pain points regardless of their budget and the cabin they fly in.
The eight Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners arriving from 2024 and retrofitted current 787-9 fleet will have either eight or four Business Premier Luxe seats, 42 or 22 Business Premier, 52 or 33 Premium Economy, 125 or 213 Economy seats, and specifically on the ultra-long-haul aircraft, six Skynest sleep pods.
The new cabin rollout will begin in 2024, with more features and details to be announced.
For more, head to www.airnewzealand.com.au
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