16/05/2006 - 22:00

Upping the ante across the Tasman

16/05/2006 - 22:00

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Air New Zealand has the package and attitude to redefine its place in the market.

Upping the ante across the Tasman

It’s all blue skies at award winning Air New Zealand as passengers flock back to the airline where “relaxed luxury” is the theme.

New CEO Rob Fyfe’s message for cabin crew and service staff is to learn the manual, then throw it away.

“I don’t want a whole lot of clones on our flights. I want individuality and warmth,” he told Business Class in Auckland.

And to help deliver that warmth and luxury, Air New Zealand has almost completed a total refit of its long-haul 747s, has introduced Boeing 777s, premium class beds, a new premium economy class product and quite possibly the best economy class in the air.

The 747s and 777s also sport the latest in in-flight entertainment (IFE) technology.

The airline’s focus is to develop the staff’s passion and intellect and to allow that full expression to engage passengers. That concept is reflected in the cabin staff’s new uniform, which blends elegance and casual sophistication.

But the transformation of the cabin crew goes way beyond the uniform, according to the airline’s group general manager international airline, Ed Sims.

“We have evolved the concept of ‘super users’ to build on areas of expertise in critical areas such as IFE. The staff members who have applied for these positions typically would be specialists in particular areas or want specialised training. They are then rostered on to smooth the introduction of new product,” Mr Sims said.

And the new approach is working – extremely well, in fact.

“Yield is up. Economy passengers are moving up to premium economy and our business and first class passengers are coming back,” Mr Sims said.

The numbers are extremely impressive. According to a recent survey by UK-based TNS Global Research, the percentage of customers who would recommend Air New Zealand has grown from a paltry 44 per cent early last year across the international network to 90 per cent for the first time ever in November last year.

The dramatic turnaround in passenger opinion is not surprising to the industry, with Air New Zealand locked in a 1989 time warp thanks to the airline’s previous owners, who spent virtually nothing on the onboard product in more than 12 years.

To support the new growth plans, the airline will have all its eight 777-200ERs by year’s end and all eight 747-400s will be re-configured by year’s end, when the airline will ramp up advertising in Australia. The 767-300ER fleet is being reduced from seven to just four, which will be retained for Pacific and Perth services.

The airline’s new business premier features Virgin Atlantic’s flat beds, which are used under licence. The seat/bed design has a 58.9-centimetre-wide leather armchair that converts forward into a 2.07-metre truly flat bed.

The bed was more than four years in development and Virgin Atlantic has made 50-plus modifications to meet customer requests.

There is also an ottoman footrest that doubles as a visitor’s seat. One of the wonderful features is that every passenger has direct access to the aisle. There is also in-seat power and a high-resolution 26cm screen to view the on-demand entertainment system.

For those who want more space than economy and some of the frills only found at the pointy end, Air New Zealand has introduced a new class called Pacific premium economy, located adjacent to the premium cabin.

On the 747, this is on the upper deck and features the largest seat pitch in its class at 99-101cm, together with generous seat width, on-demand entertainment on a personal 21.3cm high-resolution screen. The seat reclines 50 per cent more than the standard economy seat and each seat has a full leg rest and foot bar.

Passengers get all the benefits of the premium cabin, including the same beverage service, mood cabin lighting and in-seat power for laptops.

This class has a modest start with just 26 seats in the rear of the upper deck of the 747 and the airline is now planning a significant change in configuration to increase capacity to meet demand. Premium economy also has a dedicated check-in.

Air New Zealand is the only airline offering premium economy seating on services to and from New Zealand and the US.

Fares for premium economy start at $2,984 plus taxes for a Perth-Auckland-Los Angeles return flight utilising economy on the Perth-Auckland sector.

Economy class retains the generous 86.3cm seat pitch – 5cm more than most airlines.

“This extra leg room is extremely important on longer haul routes that will appeal to Australians and New Zealanders, who are the world’s tallest travellers after the Dutch,” Mr Sims told Business Class.

Air New Zealand has added in-seat entertainment for economy and does it with flair with an on-demand system incorporating 780 hours of selections displayed on a high-resolution video screen.

The entire aircraft reflects the airline’s new philosophy of “relaxed lodge luxury” with soft elegant browns a key theme.

The introduction of the 777s has allowed the airline to offer its Auckland-San Francisco service daily and add a new Auckland-Hong Kong-London service later this year, which will make the airline the only one to offer a true round-the-world service.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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