Innovative airlines 2011: #1 Air New Zealand

For avid airline industry watchers it may come as no surprise that Air New Zealand (ANZ) tops our 2011 list of most innovative airlines in the world. ANZ is a small airline in a small country at the end of the world with powerful competitors everywhere, so it has to be innovative and nimble to gain an edge over larger rivals. Just like number 2 on our list, All Nippon Airways, ANZ has taken the arrival of its first B787 as an opportunity to redesign the long-haul inflight experience from scratch, but the Dreamliner’s multiple delays, decided to install the interior on its new B777-300ER aircraft instead.

The culmination of four years work by ANZ, the new cabin has just made its commercial debut on flights between Auckland and Los Angeles and ANZ will officially launch its new product on the Auckland – LA – London route in April 2011 once three new aircraft are in fleet.

Skycouch, Spaceseat
Airlines around the world have been ignoring the Economy cabin for years as they invested to upgrade first- or business-class seats that provide higher profit margins. However, as the majority of ANZ’s long-haul flights are overnight and are on average 90 minutes longer than any other airline, the airline has decided to spend most of its research and development budget on a design overhaul of the inflight experience in Economy. ANZ now effectivily has 3 types of Economy seats: Regular Economy (which also offers passengers a last-minute option to book an empty seat next to them), Economy ‘Skycouch’, and Premium Economy.

ANZ’s revolutionary ‘Skycouch’ (a.k.a ‘Cuddle Class’) is made up of three standard economy seats which can be changed into a single horizontal space by removing arm rests. The seats also have large flip-up cushions that fill the space between the end of the seat and the next row of seats, creating  a flat surface 156 cm long and 76 cm wide. Seat-belt extenders enable passengers to be buckled in when prone. Designed chiefly for couples and families with young children, the Skycouch has to be booked in a set of three seats, but for the price of 2.5 economy seat. Twenty-two sets of Skycouch seats – about a quarter of all economy seats – will be available, being the first 11 window rows on either side of the economy cabin.

ANZ is also introducing a new Premium Economy seat, callled ‘Spaceseat’. The hard-shell seat comes in two configurations: ‘Outer Space’ seats, in pairs by the windows, are angled to provide privacy for people travelling alone, while ‘Inner Space’ seats, also in pairs, make it easy for people to dine or sit together.

Already offering full-flat beds in a 1:2:1 herringbone layout on its current fleet, ANZ only made slight changes to its Business Class which for example are now in a cream-white leather furnishing.

ANZ’s new B777-300ER has 44 Business, 50 Premium Economy and 244 Economy seats. According to the airline, more than 30 airlines around the world have expressed interest in licensing the new seat designs after an 18 month period of exclusivity for ANZ.

Smart design innovations
ANZ’s new cabin further includes smart design innovations such as a ‘slip on pillow,’ which is fitted over the winged headrest in Economy and eliminates the nuisance of pillows falling down and the need for inflatable neck cushions. The Spaceseat in Premium Economy has a bean bag style cushion, affectionately named ‘Otto’ (short for ottoman), instead of fixed leg rests. ‘Otto’ can be moved around freely so passengers can find their own comfortable sleeping position. The bathrooms also got a makeover and feature elegant lighting and wallpaper depicting book cases, chandeliers and other home interior elements.

ANZ is the first commercial airline to introduce induction ovens, which allows it to serve fresh pizza, burgers, toast and eggs as well steak cooked the way passengers want it. Passengers in all classes can also use the new IFE touch screen system to order food and beverages outside of main meal times.

In March 2010, ANZ launched a co-creation campaign, called ‘Aviation Design Academy,’ in which it asked creative types around the globe to submit their ideas for a mid-flight snack in Economy, a signature cocktail in Premium Economy or a stylish eye mask for premium classes. The winning ideas would be turned into actual products on ANZ’s B777-300 inaugural flight from Auckland to London in April 2011. The airline received hundreds of innovative ideas and in May 2010 held a judging day where all the finalists’ cocktails and snacks were made on the spot and the winners in each category were chosen.

ANZ has also added several innovative features to its new Panasonic eX2 IFE system. A ‘screen share’ option lets passengers synchronize video and music with their neighbours so they can watch and listen together (see this video for more details). A visual flight planner informs passengers about the inflight routine, for example when flights will be dimmed, while passengers can also text questions to the inflight concierge.

In a collaboration with YouTube, ANZ also just launched a dedicated website that will allow anyone to upload, watch and share videos. Up to 100 short videos will be chosen by the airline each week to feature onboard as part of its inflight entertainment programming.

ANZ will also offer mobile connectivity onboard the B777s, allowing passengers to send and receive emails and text messages during the flight on their cellphones. It is not clear however, whether this service is already available.

Inflight concierge, kids stories and wine-tasting
ANZ has also added social touch to the galley areas. The airline’s inflight concierge can use a large screen in the front galley to host post-dinner wine tastings or to tell more about the arrival destination. In the rear galley cabin crew will read after-dinner stories to kids (video here).

Radical unbundling on short-haul
While ANZ has seriously upgraded its long-haul product, fierce competition on the routes to Australia and the South Pacific has led the airline to remove all Business Class seats from its short-haul aircraft, offering a single-class cabin instead. Without seats to differentiate the inflight experience, ANZ now offers four different service options: Seat, Seat + Bag, The Works, and Works Deluxe. ANZ has also set up a trans-Tasman alliance with VirginBlue and just acquired a 15 percent stake in the Australian carrier.

As frequent flyers prefer a fast and hassle-free experience on the ground, ANZ has provided members of its loyalty program with a so-called ‘ePass’, a small RFID sticker that for example can be attached to the back of a mobile phone. Passengers then can use their mobile device to check-in on domestic and short-haul flights, enter passenger lounges and self-board at the gate. Customers that travel frequently with ANZ between regional destinations can also purchase an annual ‘Starfish Card’,which for a yearly fixed fee gives them a standard 15 (NZ$200/year) or 30 percent (NZ$800). discount on their ticket.

Creative marketing campaigns
Today, many consumers routinely ignoring the numeous commercials thrown at them. However, ANZ’s ‘Nothing 2 Hide’ and the recent ‘Borat-esque’ Ricco campaigns prove that taking a more daring, provocative approach still works.

Two social media campaigns by the airline are also worth mentioning: The ‘Air New Zealand Fairy’ is a virtual fairy who once a day grants a wish from an ANZ customer via Twitter, ranging from extra frequent flier points to make it to the next tier, to free lounge passes and seat upgrades. ANZ also rewards members of geo-social network Foursquare, who are the mayor of select airports and terminals, with free admission to its lounges.


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