Just before Christmas, Air New Zealand took delivery of its very first 777-300ER. These airplanes are meant to replace the 747-400s that do the long haul flying for the airline, and Air NZ has really done a fantastic job making the experience much better than the airline’s already high quality experience out there today. While the airplane may look like any other 777 on the outside, what Air New Zealand has done on the inside makes it one of the best products I’ve seen. And this isn’t just from pictures. I was able to take a tour of the airplane when it stopped in LA on its delivery flight.
When I went down to New Zealand for the interior unveiling last January, it looked like a very ambitious effort. I liked what I saw, but it was just a prototype in a nondescript space in Auckland. Seeing it all on the airplane in full force really hammers home how great this is. And it’s not just the seats. It’s really the entire experience. That’s something that only rarely gets enough attention. Below, I have six videos that take a tour through several parts of the onboard experience. Take a look and then come back for more discussion.
Having been on the airplane, I have to say that it’s different, and even better, in person. The airline really has set a standard for travel, actually making its seats white and “ink” (um, black) with mood-lighting to make it feel more like a private jet experience. Being onboard, you really get that sensation more than on any other commercial airline I’ve been on. (And no, I haven’t been on the Singapore A340-500 with 100 biz class seats.)
The seats are innovative in all three cabins and they all appear to be contenders for best-in-class. But I’ve already talked about those when I visited Auckland last year. What really grabbed me was the soft product and the way that it caters to the customer in ways that I don’t think we often see from airlines. It also adds some of that Kiwi humor into the mix to prevent people from taking themselves too seriously.
For example, the lavs have wallpaper on the side with different designs. One has a bookshelf with a bunch of books (including the “Kiwis Have Big Noses” tome which is apparently highly respected in academic circles). Another has a chandelier one one side with what looks like the reflection on the adjacent wall. The reflection, however, has knives, spoons, and yes, forks in it. My favorite might be the lav which actually has a window inside. Across from the window, you see this:
I also like that the amenity kits in business class have eyeshades with different designs on them. Some have old-time aviator goggles, others have bird eyes. The idea being that seeing some of the high-powered Kiwi businesspeople walking around in their pajamas wearing these things will help to lighten the mood a little. I agree, and it’s very New Zealand-appropriate.
Another thing that Air New Zealand has figured out is that if you make kids happy, their parents will be happy. And since Air New Zealand carries a ton of family leisure travelers, that’s really important. If the airline knows a kid is traveling, the headrest will be given the kids’ cover to make it special. Also, when the kid arrives at the seat, there will be a snackbox waiting. Kids don’t always wait for mealtime, so this will be a welcome way to start the flight. The kids will also get a bag with a bunch of goodies and there’s an extensive kid section on the inflight entertainment. That’s just smart.
Possibly one of the more interesting moves is the use of common space. Virgin Atlantic certainly has done this well with the bar for premium passengers, and Air New Zealand will do the same thing with a twist. In the front galley, they will be able to hold wine tastings with its Kiwi wines for business class customers. It’s a good move because it fits with the Kiwi wine culture, just as Virgin Atlantic’s cool bar fits with its image.
In the back galley, the crew expects to have story time for kids. They can read to the kids or they have a 23 inch LCD screen that can have movies shown. Getting the kids together and relieving the parents from duty for a little while is going to pay dividends.
In the end, Air New Zealand has really created a special atmosphere on the airplane and that’s something very few airlines have been able to do. The airplane starts flying some days between LA and Auckland on January 16. By April, flights 1 and 2, the ones that go between Auckland, LA, and London will have the new product.