Op-Ed: Redefining Premium with the Spaceseat


Over Christmas I flew to Los Angeles to visit friends, and decided to treat myself to a flight with Air New Zealand. Having interacted with the airline on Twitter and Facebook in the last few years, I’ve found them to be friendly and much-loved by expat Kiwis and foreigners alike; in fact several friends of mine gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up at my choice of airline. So I finally got to try something I’ve wanted to try for nearly four years – Air New Zealand’s Spaceseat on the Boeing 777-300ER.

Originally announced in January 2010, the Air New Zealand Spaceseat promised new levels of comfort for the airline’s Premium Economy customers, but it was not without its negatives. Complaints about legroom after its initial release prompted the airline to remove a row of seats, although this came at a revenue penalty.

My seat, 32K, was the first outside seat on the far side of the cabin, with the wall dividing Business Premier from Premium Economy immediately ahead. With the seat facing outward, it gives an illusion of privacy, which for a single traveller can be precious.

Before takeoff, I was informed by the cabin staff that the seat next to me would be unoccupied, which added to the deliciously secluded feeling.

The seat itself is contained in a hard shell and upholstered with cream leather. To your right you have the multi-control handset and the reading light, which hides behind a chromed fascia reminiscent of a jog dial. You also have a shelf to your right, which you can use to put your book or your glasses (if you, like me, wear any) on, and the headphone socket is just above the shelf, neatly out of the way.

The seat’s controls, Tilt and Recline, hide beneath the shelf. Both are manual, i.e. you have to use your body weight to control the amount, and both require a fairly hard pull up, so that might be considered a minus for those who prefer to use electrical assistance to set their comfort just so. While you don’t get a footrest in the seat itself, you get a soft pouffe on which to rest your feet.

The biggest bugbear for early fliers on the Spaceseat was legroom. In un-reclined mode, my seat provided me with 40″ (4.2 iPads) of BTK (bum to knee space), however, this reduced to 33″ (3.5 iPads) on full recline because the seat reclines into its own space. Here the outward facing orientation could be problematic; the seats in D and E will allow passengers to stretch their legs into the aisle where necessary while Seats A, B, J and K cannot stretch their legs outside their space. Some rows also have more BTK than others due to the layout of the cabin.

Along with the seat comes a very plush pillow that would not be out of place on a hotel bed. Because the pillow is fairly firm and substantial, you can adjust it into a shape that is comfortable for you, especially once you want to recline for a snooze. The airline provides a pictogram guide on how the seat can be comfortable to sleep in, and although I didn’t try all the positions, the seat was not uncomfortable when sleeping on my side. You may find that some extra back support could be useful, which the pillow can provide. Comforters are also provided by the airline.

The amenity kit contains cosmetics by Clarins and includes a moisturiser, as well as the virtually obligatory pen, tooth brush, eye mask, ear plugs and socks.

I comfortably snoozed for several hours before waking to watch a movie or two on the excellent IFE system. While the screens were somewhat slow in recognising taps (and required a very firm hand), the layout of the system was very straight-forward and easy to use. One of my favourite options was ‘My Flight’, which provided me with a schedule of which features were enabled when and for how long. The selection on the IFE is extensive, and much to my surprise and delight, I found several of my favourite cult movies and artists included, which clearly made the flight more enjoyable.

A small but nice touch is the warning that the airline displays before screening movies, telling the viewer that the selected movie may not necessarily be suitable for younger passengers and to be considerate when choosing movies while any are nearby.

Also included in the system are flight mapping with several modes and map styles, in-flight shopping, which on my leg was restricted to the iPod connector cable, and in-flight food ordering, which functions like Virgin America’s offering. At-seat AC power is provided through a multi-format socket, as is USB power in its own dedicated socket. The IFE allows you to watch your own content on an iDevice through a custom port and cable (purchasable through the in-flight ordering system, see above).

One other pleasant surprise was the ability to continue to watch movies or listen to music all the way to the gate; no more waiting impatiently for cabin crew to switch the movie on… it’s on from when the doors close to when they open again.

Though Air New Zealand reportedly won’t use the Spaceseat on its new Boeing 787-9s, or retrofit it to 777-200s, I must admit that this experience has redefined what I consider to be Premium Economy. Watch out Virgin Atlantic, you’re about to be replaced!

Stefan PAbout the author, Stefan Paetow

Fascinated by planes from childhood, Stefan has travelled extensively for work and pleasure.

Nowadays he spends his time running after dirt bikes with a camera, working on authentication systems in science, and following trends in a wide range of sectors, including aviation and travel.