BY JAMES WILKINSON
Air New Zealand’s revolutionary Skycouch offering in economy class is set to debut on scheduled flights from Auckland to Los Angeles in April, following the delivery of the airline’s first Boeing 777-300ER in Seattle this morning.
The Kiwi-designed Skycouch enables three economy class seats to be turned into a mini-bed, comfortably sleeping two passengers, and is one of several industry-leading initiatives to be introduced on the new long-haul Boeing aircraft.
The aircraft – configured with 244 in Economy (including 60 seats creating 20 Skycouch combinations), 50 in Premium Economy and 44 in Business Premier – is the first of five on order for Air New Zealand and the first route to be guaranteed the new cuddle class offering is NZ1 from Auckland to Los Angeles and London from April 2011.
However, when the Boeing 777 was first introduced into the Air New Zealand fleet (the B777-200ER variant) several years ago, the aircraft was flown initially from Auckland on Australian routes and the same is expected to happen with the new B777-300ERs from January 2011.
Another key feature of the new aircraft is induction ovens in all cabins (the first commercial airline to do so), giving passengers the opportunity to have steak the way they like it cooked, along with freshly cooked pizza, toast and eggs and burgers – all of which can be ordered on-demand through the in-flight entertainment system available in every seat.
Premium Economy class has also been upgraded with the introduction of the most advanced seat to be seen in commercial flying, while children’s story telling and in-flight wine tastings are two of the other new offerings on the B777-300ER aircraft.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe said the aircraft would arrive in Auckland tomorrow morning (Dec 24) and is the “the best Christmas present we could possibly imagine”.
“Four long years of planning and design (have gone in) to create an absolute world-first interior and passenger experience (that) is now a reality,” he said.
Air New Zealand Group General Manager International Airline, Ed Sims, who was in Seattle to accept the Boeing 777, said the aircraft heralds a whole new long-haul flying experience for Air New Zealand customers.
“The majority of our long-haul flights are overnight and we fly on average 90 minutes longer than any other airline,” he said.
“That’s why we set out to overcome the seemingly impossible challenge of finding a way for people to lie down in economy without compromising affordability.
“Few airlines have invested time and money beyond First Class, whereas we have focused on the areas where most of our passengers sit by reinventing every aspect of our Economy and Premium Economy customer experience.
“We’ve created the world’s first economy seating that enables people to lie down and a Premium Economy seat that many airlines would call Business Class.
“We’re also the first commercial airline to introduce induction ovens for all cabins to give our customers freshly prepared food and have developed an in-flight entertainment (IFE) system to give people greater control over the way their journey will unfold,” he said.
Air New Zealand said more than 30 airlines have been in contact regarding the seats and formal negotiations are underway with carriers from Asia, North America and Europe to licence them, however, that will be after an 18-month exclusivity with the Auckland-based carrier.