The airline didn’t stop there, though. They have also completely redesigned their Premium Economy class, and chipped in additional amenities and touches such as meals on demand (within a few time limits) in all classes; new child-friendly features like interactive cartoon characters and a whole menu of kid faves like chicken tenders and popcorn; a completely new in-flight entertainment system that takes Virgin’s Red to the next level with iTunes-like interface and video screens that are among the largest we’ve seen in Economy; a whole new color scheme meant to evoke a new age of stylish luxury travel; and lavatories that we were assured would knock our socks off.
Air New Zealand commissioned the design firm Ideo (yeah, the same dudes who invented the computer mouse) to help them come up with their new configuration, and believe it or not (though we tend to believe this next part, because we’re talking about design dorks here), the Ideo folks designed the whole travel experience around passenger character types based on…The Simpsons. No joke, they broke down the whole emotional reaction to travel into five different personality types, and based the entire experience on them so that whether you be a social butterfly who can’t sit still, or a misanthrope determined to hate everyone and everything about travel, you should still find something to like.
· A Star is Born: The SkyCouch will make its in-flight debut in a fleet of new Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300’s, with the first one set to begin flying between Auckland and Los Angeles starting in November 2010, and between Auckland and London via Los Angeles starting in April 2011. Seats go on sale starting this month, though.
· Currency Conversion: All that is pretty far in the future, making it hard to figure out exactly how much one of these loungy options will cost, but travel agents are predicting a roundtrip from Auckland to London on one of them will ring up at about $5,000 USD, so we’re guessing Auckland-LAX will run you about $3,000.
· Configure It Out: Each Boeing 777-300 will have 22 SkyCouches in the first 11 rows of economy. The configuration of the plane is 3-3-3, so that means each SkyCouch is a row of three seats on either side of the cabin (middle rows will not convert into them).
· Inner Space: That’s a good thing because each SkyCouch is only about 1.75 meters long (or just over 5 feet), so passengers will likely need the fuselage as a headboard. And they’ll need to be pretty skinny, too, since each SkyCouch is just about as roomy as a twin bed, with 36 inches of depth, and the ability to support just 300 lbs, so no fatties! It’s just not…New Zealander.
· Stretching Out: When the passengers are ready for some R&R, the foot rest raises up to fill in the gap between the front of the seat and the back of the preceding row, then a thin mattress is placed on top and the passengers are given full-size pillows and polar fleece blankets.
· Target Audience: The SkyCouch is aimed at families and couples traveling together, because in order to book one, passengers must reserve two of the seats at full price and then the third seat at half-price. Really, our only concern is about randy couples who will try to use the new configuration to join the mile-high club.
· Design: Almost as striking as the layout is the new, bold color scheme. No more the royal blue of classic sky décor, instead the economy seats in the new planes will be black fabric with white backs that will match the new crew uniforms that were just issued earlier this year.
· Change is in the Air: Air New Zealand has also made some major changes to its Premium Economy Class, which, with a 2-2-2 set-up, is definitely going to be a game-changer in the long-haul flight market.
· Premium Economy Gets Down to Business: These seats are now ensconced within individual hard shells laid out in a herringbone configuration so that the experience of flying is more personal and private, much like the nicest business and first classes on other premium carriers.
· A Leg Up: The seats here are all ergonomically designed to recline with a slightly raised incline in the seat area, and custom-stitched leather based on the interiors of Bentleys. The major drawback here is that there is no leg support or foot rest…except for a bean bag the airline has jauntily named "Otto." We still have our doubts about whether his smiling, googley-eyed face will provide sufficient foot comfort for a trans-Pacific flight, but at least you get to take him home with you afterward.
No word yet on how much the Premium Economy tickets will cost on the new planes, but we bet it won’t be a bargain. Then again, compared to the P.E. configurations on other major long-haul carriers, the privacy-conscious layout, the fun new design, and the Clarins toiletries we hear Air New Zealand will be offering might just make an upgrade worth the extra cost. Especially because it’s still bound to be one of the best deals on the LAX-London route.
· Will Fatties Fit on Air New Zealand's New SkyCouch? [Jaunted]
· Airplane seats news [Jaunted]