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Air New Zealand review and all the upgrades you can expect come 2024

The airline has responded to overwhelming customer feedback on the importance of sleep and need for more comfort and space.

Few people have the chance to visit hangars, much less one such as Hangar 22, an Air New Zealand facility in Auckland that is so secretive that it's only known and accessible to a small group of employees.

For the uninitiated: Hangar 22 is Air New Zealand's highly confidential product development facility, born in 2017. To be fair, it's less of a hangar and more of an innovation lab, where new products – from airplane seats to consumer experiences – are conceptualised and tested. We were told that 18 months of deep customer research preceded the production process.

If it's one thing Air New Zealand know, it's being innovative. After all, they adopted the herringbone seats in Business class, once a cutting-edge feature back in 2005. Air NZ's Business Premier is a business-class seat that provides a wonderfully cocooned sleep experience, but lacks the space and privacy one has come to expect from newer Business class products.

The airline needed hardware upgrades to measure up to its excellent software (the crew, service and food) and has spent five years of R&D on the upgrades we're about to see in 2024. Yahoo Singapore got a chance to visit Hangar 22 in Auckland, and experience the upgrades one can expect from Air New Zealand.

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Review of the current Business Premier

To truly appreciate the upgrades, we must consider what Air New Zealand currently offers in Business Class. You get the whole shebang, like lounge access, welcome champagne on board, plated meals, amenities and the glorious flatbed, which is a true luxury on long-haul flights.

Air New Zealand Business Premier at a glance.
Air New Zealand Business Premier at a glance. (Photo: Screenshot from Air NZ 360 experience)

But it's quite obvious from the above configuration that it lacks perceived privacy, especially if you're sitting in the middle row where your view is a little window, feet on an ottoman, and what your neighbour might be doing.

With a bit of foresight after studying the seating plan, I managed to snag the best seat in the house (the last row of the first column), which allows an overview of the cabin and a better sense of privacy.

Interiors of Air New Zealand
The last row of the first column offers the best privacy, but you got to snag it up early enough. (Photo: Stephanie Zheng)

It's a curious position. I cannot see what my neighbours are doing despite the proximity. Even then, privacy leaves much to be desired, as it's common for people walking along the aisle to bump into your ottoman (or stare down at your sleeping face if they so wish it, though my seat got the least of that.) Since privacy is prized in most major carriers' Business products, this is where the class fell short.

Before the bed is made, and after on Air New Zealand
Before the bed is made, the tray can be pulled out to function as a desk. The same space can be converted into a bed. (Photo: Stephanie Zheng)

The ottoman was a nice space to prop your legs up, but it also serves as the main place for small bags to be stowed, unfortunately, on the floor, which is less ideal for me. There were the usual reading light, a place to stow your water bottle and movable compartments on the seats, but in all, I just wished for a little more space to stretch out.

The service, however, was where Air New Zealand truly shone. I covered that here briefly; the service was warm and personable from start to end, and the food delightful (tip: never decline additional servings of garlic bread). I asked for the bed to be made, head to the washroom, and returned less than five minutes later to a ready-made bed, complete with a mattress and a comfortable duvet. There's even a turn-down service that comes with essential oil and sleep tea, should you request for it.

With the proper hardware, Air New Zealand can really shine. We just have to wait till 2024 to see these following upgrades.

Air New Zealand upgrades coming in 2024

Hours of research and five years in the making, the upgrades to the cabins are done with sustainability in mind while balancing the need for a luxurious experience.

We spoke with Leanna Geraghty, chief customer and sales officer, who informed us that sustainability is a core focus even in the design. For example, while there is an increased focus on privacy, Air New Zealand was not simply going to add doors in Business class for the sake of it, as it would add 30kg to the aircraft. Instead, they designed a partition to allow for privacy when one needs it.

Air New Zealand also invested in a new material for the china used on planes: it's lighter, yet retains the luxe feel during meal service. Altogether, they shaved off 76kg in max capacity even with the improvements in hardware.

The seats definitely, got an upgrade, so here are what you can expect from the new 787-9 Dreamliners.

1) Business Premier Luxe

Business Luxe converted the often unused bulkhead space into one where one can share a space with their travelling partners. (Photo: Air New Zealand)
Business Luxe converted the often unused bulkhead space into one where one can share a space with their travelling partners. (Photo: Air New Zealand)

Touted as "the best sleep in the sky", Air New Zealand's most luxe offering is for customers looking for the ultimate space and privacy. The airline is essentially converting the bulkhead space into an area that allows two to occupy the seat for meals. The seat also comes with a fully closing door.

2) Business Premier

Business Premier
Business Premier

Definitely an improvement from the current Business Premier, the upgraded nest has a wider pitch and lots more space to wiggle about. If travelling with a companion, the middle row allows customers to open their nest and share their experiences. One of the best improvements is that you can recline in the seat at up to 30 degrees, even during taxi and takeoff.

Given that the trend is moving towards reverse herringbone seats, we wondered why Air New Zealand chose to maintain a herringbone configuration. Kerry Reeves, Head of Aircraft Programmes at Air New Zealand, shed some light.

"The 1-2-1 herringbone layout offers added privacy when working on a computer, and provides much less disturbance while sleeping since there is greater distance between a passenger's head and the aisle. The herringbone layout in the centre seats allows sharing your experience and private conversations between passengers travelling together. With the shallow herringbone angle, all passengers, including those in the centre seats, can easily see out the windows."

3) Premium Economy

Premium Economy
Premium Economy

There's a reason why Air NZ Premium Economy class has won awards. Even on the current Premium Economy, I had a lovely experience, plenty of space and it didn't feel intrusive even with a stranger sitting next to me. The same warm service was experienced from the crew.

The new seat offers more privacy and protected space where one can recline at leisure without interrupting the person behind. This is achieved by the seats sliding forward instead of towards the back.

Check out Premium Economy prices here.

4) Economy Skynest

Skynest is a lie-down product available to Economy and Premium Economy guests (Photo: Air New Zealand)
Skynest is a lie-down product available to Economy and Premium Economy guests (Photo: Air New Zealand)

A game changer for economy travellers, the world's first sleep pods in the sky, Skynest is a six-pod configured sleep zone that offers economy passengers to lie down when travelling long haul, bunk-bed style. Available from September 2024, each pod will include a full-size pillow, sheets and blanket, ear plugs, a separate reading light, personal device USB outlet, a ventilation outlet, and lighting designed for rest.

The Skynest will be located between Premium Economy and Economy, and each pod will come with a separate seatbelt to ensure passengers can fasten them and stay in the pod should the seat belt sign come on during turbulence. The bedding will be changed between each session, and a 30-minute transition time will be allowed for this. The lights will gently come on at the end of each session, and the crew will politely wake any passengers who sleep through this.

"We're still working through the exact details of how the booking process will work, and we have yet to determine the price. At this stage are looking at around $400 to $600 for the 4-hour period," according to Geraghty.

5) Economy Skycouch

Air NZ Sky couch
Air NZ Sky couch, already available for Economy passengers right now. (Photo: Stephanie Zheng)

Use the Skycouch the way you want. Sit, spread out, or lie down and snooze. Share the space or keep it all to yourself.

6) Economy Stretch

It's all in the name. This seat is for those who want to rest and stretch their legs further than the regular Economy seat.

7) Economy seat

An enhanced economy seat designed with more storage, comfort and space and a 50% bigger screen for entertainment. Connect to Bluetooth audio and pair your device as a remote control or second screen.

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-longhaul aircraft, six Skynest sleep pods.

The flight to Auckland was part of a media familiarisation trip, but opinions are my own.

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