Air New Zealand’s 787: narrower seats pinch in Business Premier

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I’ve long been of the opinion that Air New Zealand offers one of the best business class products for an overnight flight — the kind of leg that makes up the majority of the airline’s longhaul services. I find the flip-over seat ideal: after a decent meal, just ask the crew to make it up while you change into PJs, and then flop into a memory foam mattress topper for a fully flat sleep on a surface made for sleeping, not for sitting.

Having examined the refurbished Boeing 777-200ER version of this cabin in April, I’ll be focussing here on the way that the Dreamliner cabin, seats and other #PaxEx features differ from the previous implementations of the Business Premier product.

Let me be clear up front — the lower cabin altitude of the Dreamliner was noticeably wonderful, the LED lighting made me grin with how fantastically cool it was to bathe the entire cabin in purple light on boarding, the foam mattress was as comfortable as ever, and Air NZ’s food and beverage was everything I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite airlines to fly.

But there was a significant difference: the narrower Business Premier seat, driven by the size of the Dreamliner’s cabin. On flights that are approaching the ultra-longhaul stage length, this is a tangible issue.

To the left: the LED-lit Dreamliner seat. To the right: the same product on the refit Boeing 777-200ER. All I’ve done to these images is crop them, improve the lighting, rotate the 777 one slightly, and flip it horizontally for an easier comparison.

Comparing the two seats, it’s clear there is markedly less room on the Dreamliner

Rotation
With a full cabin and a hectic departure, I didn’t have time to measure the seat, but it is clear that the Dreamliner implementation of this seat gives markedly less room than its previous incarnations on Air New Zealand’s 747 or 777 cabins.

It felt nearly as narrow as the version on Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A340, and the difference between the two Air NZ seat sizes was very noticeable, particularly at shoulder level. I’d estimate the difference at somewhere around six to eight inches

I certainly wasn’t the only person I heard muttering about the fold-down cocktail table being right behind their left shoulder rather than within easy reach.

This affects more than just shoulder room. One of the key benefits of the larger seat for front-sleepers was always to be able to sleep on pillowed arms, with elbows sticking out into the shoulder space once the seat flipped down. That’s no longer possible — I checked. On the plus side, it didn’t feel any shorter in bed mode.

It's still a very private seat with the divider walls, particularly in the A seats

It’s still a very private seat with the divider walls, particularly in the A seats

The narrower seat, and the lack of the shoulder space seat mode, also removes the ability to keep a small handbag, shoulder bag or small personal item next to you during the flight. Previously, you could pop your washbag or the amenity kit to you in case you needed lip balm during the night, or wanted to keep your phone in a bag to stop it from potentially slipping behind the seat. That’s not possible either.

This narrower product is a shame. I’ve always liked it for the kind of twelve hour overnight that is a key part of Air New Zealand’s network. The first time I ever flew Air NZ’s version was a 26-hour direct flight from London on the 777-200ER with a stop in Hong Kong — a flight that itself has fallen by the wayside — which I still talk about as the best ultra-longhaul flight I’ve ever taken in terms of feeling refreshed on arrival.

Even with the reduced cabin altitude of the 787, and the great Kiwi service that is Air New Zealand’s trademark, it’s hard to get past the smaller seat on the Dreamliner.

Comparing Air New Zealand's seatmaps (787 on the left, 777 on the right), the initial differences are clear

Comparing Air New Zealand’s seatmaps (787 on the left, 777 on the right), the initial differences are clear

13 Comments

  1. Eric

    I can’t help but notice the apparent negative bias of the author to the 787 Dreamliner. This is not the first article where he has a less than favorable review of the Dreamliner. Yes, it is true that the 17″ seat installed in the Dreamliner is one inch narrower than the 18″ that Airbus claims should be the standard, but let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want an inch more, or two? This article, however, shows the how author is misleading readers with respect to the business cabin on 787 Dreamliners.

    The author states in the title that the business class seats in the Dreamliner are narrower than the 777. This is simple not true. First, Both aircraft have a 22″ wide seat. The space around the seat may have changed, but the seat itself it not narrower. Second, the width of the 787 fuselage does not contribute to the space difference between the 787 and 777. If the seats had been spaced out further in the fore/aft direction of the aircraft, passenger would have similar room around the seat as seen in the 777. The width of the fuselage as no affect in this instance.

    What the author fails to recognize is that the 787 fuselage width is not the culprit in his apparent arguments against the aircraft, but rather the configurations that the airlines choose in order to maximize revenue generating seats.

    • Recent Air NZ flier

      I was just on a 787-9 trip. It is nothing about the negative bias to the 787 Dreamliner, it is a fact out there there unfortunately, this plane is just bad.

      While I agree that the author/editor did failed to picked up on their grammar/sentence error, giving the assumption that they were indeed talking about the seat width, but if you had just looked at the actual title of the page as well as the web address, they are in fact talking about the seat pitch, which in this case, is indeed narrower which, while maintaining 22″ seat width, did affect the actual overall space around.

      My flight, I was hoping to get away from the bad issues with the 787 by avoiding Economy/Premium Economy and heading for Business Premier, but as with the author, I was also very disappointed with the experience. I am a bad traveler in the sense that I have a lot of my items with me, my amenities bag, travel bag, SLR camera and jacket… On the 787, I found it hard having all those with me, which I would easily have been able to on the 777 Business Premier.

      Your statement, while it is true that it is the choice of the airlines to cram more seats to increase revenue, it is the 787’s choice of cabin width that gave airlines the option to actually try to squeeze more out of the plane, compromising comfort for passengers. For Airbus, airlines can’t do that as if they do so, it would be way to uncomfortable, and thus, they avoid it from the start. (Except LLC where passengers are more price sensitive than comfort sensitive).

      Also, I hate those damn electrical window blinds… they allow a lot of light through! With the entire cabin’s windows dimmed to the maximum, there was enough sunlight coming into the cabin to keep me awake as well!

      • Stefan

        Pinch != pitch. An inch is an inch is an inch. Inches matter, especially when you have wide shoulders.

    • Hi Eric, and thanks for your comment. I truly have no bias against the Dreamliner itself. As I said up front in the third paragraph, the technological improvements in the aircraft are impressive, although I (like “Recent Air NZ flier”) remain unconvinced by the electrical window blinds.

      I must disagree with your implication that the cushion is the only determinant of width in a seat. Personal space is made up of a number of factors, one of the most important of which are shoulder and elbow room. Cathay Pacific’s original fully flat bed product — which, if memory serves, was so similar to this one that it was part of the patent issue in Virgin v Contour — was widely criticised as “coffin class” when it failed to take that into account. Much criticism of, say, American’s Zodiac-produced 787 product or Virgin Atlantic’s Dream Suite on the A330, both of which have been canned, has been around the pinch points at shoulder and elbow. I don’t think it’s at all misleading to suggest that, when passengers have what felt like 6-8 inches less room in the space allocated for their seat at those points, the seat feels narrower.

      I must also disagree with you that the fuselage width is not the key driver of airline decisions on 787 business class products. It absolutely gives airlines a smaller envelope within which to make choices about product, and those choices are now fully flat beds with direct aisle access. On which note, I will also disagree that it is just the airlines who are making decisions here — those seats don’t seem to have been envisaged by Boeing in designing the Dreamliner if you look at the early catalogue I unearthed at https://runwaygirlnetwork.com/2015/04/23/airbus-boeing-catalogs-either-disasters-or-merely-okay-seatmakers/. You’re correct (and I don’t think I’ve ever suggested otherwise) that airlines are the ultimate decision-makers here, but in a market duopoly the OEMs need to take responsibility for #PaxEx too. If they didn’t agree, they wouldn’t spend so much on marketing to the public.

  2. Bill Peltola

    I live in New Zealand and fly Air NZ a lot. Just to clarify this, with their 787, the Business seat is the same width as the 777. However, it is the walls which are narrower. This is due to the seats having to be angled more towards the aisle. When this was done, it added about 2 extra inches in length to the whole pod but caused the shoulder space to tighten up. I honestly didn’t notice the difference until it was mentioned to me. I am fully capable of reaching around to get my glass of the world’s best sauvignon blanc.
    I can’t believe the earlier comment about the 787 being ‘bad’. It’s quieter than the 777 with nice big windows and I would gladly trade a few inches of what was already a huge amount of shoulder width for the extra oxygen (via 2,000 foot lower cabin altitude).
    What also wasn’t mentioned is that Air NZ business configuration is 1-1-1 as compared with others like UA who have 2-2-2.

  3. The way I see it: sizes of seats have to be standardized with multiple classes like A,B,C etc same way like fares do. When I buy a ticket the seat class has to be shown explicitely. That way airlines will not be able to cheat replacing equipment from better to worse without paying compensation.

  4. First of all, it is not a 787 issue but a New Zealand Air Issue when it comes to passenger comfort. A passenger comfort disaster is driven by corporate goals. With the herringbone convention of seating, entertains an airplane length not width. The 787-9 is plenty long enough for opening up the herringbone width for New Zealand passengers. Assigning blame on the 787 frame is an ignorant observation even though many airlines fall into the great sardine pit for more revenue. New Zealand Air was busted by this article dragging Boeing along kicking and screaming. The author of this 787 hit should’ve brought into play what others have done with its 787’s with its premium enclosures. A cocoon has it better on a bush than what New Zealand Air proposes on its 787.

  5. When I look at those seats, I wonder why Air New Zealand even bothers with windows for that part of the cabin. To see out you need to twist your head back past your shoulder, or contort your whole body.

    I know, I know, most premium flyers just want comfort, sleep and amenities. But some of us still love aviation, and to look out windows at the world outside. And, in some cases (such as mine) to photograph that world as well. Here’s my collection of ~14,000 shots, all taken from passenger seats, mostly on United and Star Alliance partners (including Air New Zealand):
    http://j.mp/ntrstng . (Hundreds of those have also found their way into Wikipedia as well.)

    By the way, I’ve only been on a 787 once. It was a United plane. II found it disappointing, because the windows were nice and tall, but placed too high in respect to the seats. (Or the seats to low in respect to the windows.) One could easily look up or out, but not down.

  6. USHPNWDLUA

    This reads as “Boeing 787 is the reason for my not-perfect seat.” Reality is ANZ made bad seat choices.

    Bias is bias is bias. Claim “I gave Boeing credit in the first paragraph!” all you’d like. Reality is that the bias is clear in the tone of the dozens of paragraphs that follow the one in which you claim credit.

  7. PeterF

    The author is 100% correct. I have recently flown in business class on Air New Zealand’s 777 and 787. There is no question that the seat/personal space is significantly narrower on the 787, and on a long haul or overnight flight this difference is very noticeable.

    So much so that I would go out of my way to avoid the 787. This is a real shame as Air New Zealand is a fantastic airline and their product generally is fantastic. It’s such a shame that they diminished their point of difference by having an inconsistent business premier product.

  8. Diane Elliott

    I have always been a fan of Air New Zealand, flying both their premium economy and works delux, but I was quite dismayed to see that all of their business class on all planes angled into the aisle. Flying sideways and not being able to see out of the window , is a no no for me, so sadly I will be picking another airline to fly with.

  9. Reece Hesketh

    Haven’t flown 787 yet but have booked through Singapore Code share … I guess I’m lucky as it is a holiday and have picked my flights to suite …for eg our flight leaves at 11:45 and we fly through the night so this negates the brightness in the cabin . I am over six foot and broad so the seat layout will be interesting going by others comments . Like others I am a traveller and love looking at the other countries cities when arriving through the cabin window wether it would be night or day so I am also disappointed with the layout on that front . Another issue is I like to talk to my wife when flying discussing wine and food as we are foodies and from my assessment through media this is going to be hard which takes away the novelty of flying together ( note we have flown business on several airlines around the pacific and to Europe so we aren’t newbies) . This being said Air NZ generally have the best service which balances things out . So time will tell and I will post a comment after the flight … Ty to everyone who posted there comments it has given me a interesting insight .

  10. Chris

    With this sardine-like seating, AirNZ does not have a competitive product. Particularly not with SQ fitting out their 777-300ER & 350s with their first class-like business class seats.

    We felt extremely cramped, looking into 6 people’s faces across the aisle at all times was akward, there was no privacy whatsoever. Food, wine, entertainment, crew = top notch. But I’d never pay this kind of money for this kind of seat again. Even LH’s “let’s play footsies” business class layout is waaaaay better.