With a mix of pomp, ceremony, well-managed PR and a fair bit of international media interest, Air New Zealand today unveiled the final prototype of its new cabin upgrades for the soon-to-arrive fleet of five Boeing 777-300s.
It claims to have redefined long-haul travel with the innovations, the highlight of which is a lie-down option in economy class, and the national carrier is set to continue along the creative path in its efforts to market them.
A staff member says the campaign to market the new in-flight offerings was sent back to the drawing board twice by Rob Fyfe, Steve Bayliss and also Geoff Ross, who is working with Grabaseat as something of a creative consultant, because neither of them "pushed the boat out far enough".
It's hoped tech-savvy customers will pick up on the online soft-launch of the new campaign (check out the Future Taking Flight site in a few days), which doesn't feature any nude or partially nude staff, before a push in the traditional outlets when fares go on sale in late April.
The Nothing to Hide ad campaign and the Bare Essentials of Safety video, which both went viral and racked up millions of views on YouTube, were risky propositions for a historically conservative company and signalled a shift in attitude. But they worked a treat, got plenty of exposure and showed the quirky side of the airline and its staff (let's just skip past the recent, completely overblown Grabaseat Cougar controversy shall we).
But it's not just creative marketing doing the business. It's creatively-led management: the airline has also implemented changes at check in and offers simple and reliable online booking systems (with Grabaseat being a particularly successful exercise). Basically, the marketing wasn't all talk (unlike the marketing seen from many financial institutions). There were actions that accompanied it, and it showed the airline understood the full customer experience, from buying tickets to dealing with customer complaints quickly to marketing its wares and, now, to the in-flight experience.
The airline takes ownership of the first new flying machine in November and it's been a three-year project to settle on the final interior, which features the Kiwi-designed Skycouch (a row of three seats that folds down flat) in economy and new premium economy seats. The first routes will be between Auckland and Los Angeles from December, followed by dedicated return services on NZ1 and NZ2 between Auckland and Los Angeles and through to London from April 2011.
Fyfe says each of the three zones in Air New Zealand’s long haul offering will be a step ahead of competitors from a comfort perspective (one staff member estimated it would be two-years ahead of its nearest competitor when released). And Fyfe told the NZ Herald the new seating, entertainment and service innovations played a large part in Air New Zealand recently being given the Best Airline in the World award from Air Transport World magazine.
The 340 seat 777-300 aircraft will have 246 Economy seats (including 66 seats creating 22 Skycouch combinations), 50 in Premium Economy and 44 in Business Premier.
“For those who choose, the days of sitting in economy and yearning to lie down and sleep are gone," Fyfe says. "The dream is now a reality, one that you can even share with a travelling companion – just keep your clothes on thanks!”
For two adults, purchasing the Skycouch will be based on buying two seats at standard prices with the third seat at approximately half price (full airfare details will be announced when they go on sale from late April).
Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy cabin has also had a makeover, with Kiwi designed Spaceseats and new shared-meal experiences, which are "more familiar in tapas restaurants or bistros than at 35,000 feet".
Air New Zealand’s Business Premier cabin has also been enhanced with complete on-demand food and beverage service and an enhanced sleep experience.
“Being able to order a steak, medium rare in Business Premier, a pizza for two in Premium Economy or a late night snack in Economy, whenever you want, will be a very cool experience. New oven technology that will cook food from scratch rather than simply reheating and a new digital in-seat ordering service will make this truly the first time real food has been served at 35,000 feet."
Air New Zealand expects to also refit its fleet of eight Boeing 777-200 aircraft from mid next year, with all Asian, North American and UK services to have the new product by around 2012.