“We pride ourselves on being leaders in innovation.” That was the message from Carrie Hurihanganui, General Manager Customer Experience at Air New Zealand, when outlining to FTE what passengers can expect when the first 787-9 Dreamliner enters service in October 2014.
Earlier this month, the Kiwi carrier took delivery of the new aircraft – a “stretched” version of the 787-8 – and speaking exclusively to FTE, Hurihanganui explained that it marks “the start of an exciting new era for the airline”. “It’s a real privilege to be the global launch customer for this aircraft and we believe it is going to be a true game changer for our business,” she stated.
‘Liberating travellers’ through choice and comfort
The 787-9 includes all of the standard Dreamliner features – larger windows, higher humidity, a lower cabin altitude and cleaner air – but in its 302-seat configuration, it will be divided into four classes – Business Premier, Premium Economy, Economy Skycouch and Economy.
At the front end of the aircraft, passengers will be able to make use of lay flat beds, Premium Economy will offer a 41-inch seat pitch in customised seats designed by Zodiac, and in Economy, the customised, slim-line Zodiac Economy seat offers more space and a flexible headrest. In between Premium Economy and Economy, there will be 14 rows of Economy Skycouch – Air New Zealand’s own seating design, which allows three seats to be converted into a single couch.
“Our 787-9s will be multiple purpose aircraft operating both long- and mid-haul sectors, and we’ve put a lot of research effort into coming up with four distinct seating selections that meet the customer expectations across the markets they will serve,” Hurihanganui said.
“Our brand promise is about liberating travellers and ensuring they have a range of choices at their fingertips, and that includes our award-winning seat products. Economy, Economy Skycouch, Premium Economy and Business Premier have all proven to be popular products with our customers.”
Next-gen entertainment and the industry’s first TripAdvisor IFE app
As for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) onboard the 787-9, Air New Zealand is again displaying its appetite for innovation, having opted for the Android-based Panasonic eX3 system.
Other carriers do offer Panasonic’s Android-based product – including Norwegian on its 787-8 Dreamliners, reviewed earlier this month by FTE – but Air New Zealand has gone a step further to ensure its offering has a unique spin.
“With our new in-flight entertainment system, we have worked closely with our partners to introduce additional innovative features that have been developed on non-IFE platforms to complement our traditional movie/TV show/music content,” Hurihanganui explained.
“Our TripAdvisor app is a great example of this. It is a world first among airlines and was developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor and our software partner, and will allow customers to research their destination while onboard.” Travellers flying from Auckland to Perth, Shanghai and Tokyo will be the first to be able to make use of this feature, as these are first three confirmed routes for the 787-9.
No Wi-Fi, but plenty for passengers to enjoy
The IFE is certainly next-generation, but the same can’t be said of the in-flight connectivity on offer as the airline has opted against installing an onboard Wi-Fi product.
Lack of full satellite coverage has been cited as one reason behind this decision, but according to Hurihanganui: “Onboard Wi-Fi and connectivity is an area that we continue to monitor against the fast moving technology growth in this space.”
While some passengers may well bemoan the lack of connectivity, it appears they will have little else to complain about on the first 787-9 Dreamliner to enter service. Air New Zealand has a total of 10 of the aircraft on order, plus options for eight more, adding weight to the claim that this really is the start of an “exciting new era” for the carrier and its customers.