When Air New Zealand launched the 777-300ER into it’s fleet in 2011 one of the most talked about features was the introduction of the new Premium Economy Spaceseat. This seat, developed in-house by Air New Zealand and design company Ideo, had originally been designed for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Due to the delays in the Dreamliner project (the first aircraft was due to delivery in 2010 but ended up entering service in 2014) Air New Zealand ended up deploying these seats in the 777-300ER first.
The Spaceseat was a revolutionary product for Premium Economy for both Air New Zealand, and the airline industry as a whole. While the existing Air New Zealand 747-400 and 777-200ER Premium Economy seats were simply an “economy plus” offering with better leg room and seat pitch, the Spaceseat was a true “business lite” offering in a 2-2-2 layout, and a unique hard shell back design meaning your seat moves forward when reclined rather than moving back which means it doesn’t cramp the space of person behind.
The outer seats were angled outwards to deliver privacy for people travelling individually, while the inner seats were designed for couples travelling together.
In pre launch testing the seat was loved by everybody who got the opportunity to test it in Air New Zealand’s not so secret Hanger 9 cabin interior development facility in Auckland. Everybody thought they had a winner on their hands - until the first 777-300ER started flying.
Within the first few months a row of Spaceseat’s was removed due to overwhelming complaints about a lack of space. This in turn reduced the number of Premium Economy seats from 50 to 44, and with a 10% reduction in seating it instantly changed the economics of the whole Premium Economy cabin. Over time it became clear the Spaceseat was a polarising product – there are those who absolutely love the Spaceseat (myself included) and those who dislike it. Many people find the recline difficult to use as you need to use your body weight to move the seat forward and back, the seat angle feels funny for others, and people who are either very tall or very short can find the seat uncomfortable and find the bean bag foot rest something that just doesn’t work. If you’re sitting in the middle seats facing outwards you also need to be careful not to hang your feet out in the aisle if you don’t want them run over by a drinks cart!
By 2013 the decision had been made not to deploy the Spaceseat in the 787-9 Dreamliner, and that this would feature a slightly customised Zodiac seat for Premium Economy in a 2-3-2 configuration. Not long after this it was also decided the 777-200ER refit would also feature this Zodiac seat rather than the Spaceseat in a 2-4-2 configuration.
At the time Air New Zealand said it was committed to the Spaceseat for the 777-300ER.
“Air New Zealand remains committed to the Spaceseat on our 777-300 fleet” a spokeswoman for the airline told Australian Business Traveller.
The new Zodiac Premium Economy seat is a regional Business class seat that has been customised by Air New Zealand. It’s being used by a number of airlines including Cathay Pacific for their Premium Economy offering. It too has a mix of people who both love and hate the seat.
Over the years Air New Zealand have won a lot of praise and industry awards for the Spaceseat. It has featured heavily in promotions and has won Skytrax awards for best Premium Economy seat on a number of occasions.
Despite all of this, if rumours are correct the Spaceseat won’t be around for much longer. Over the past few years cost-cutting within Air New Zealand been occurring with a profit at all costs mentality. It doesn’t seem to matter whether customers may like something, because if way of making extra profit can be found, it’s safe to say it will happen. It seems that the accountants have had their way and the Spaceseat will very likely be removed from the 777-300ER within the next year, to be replaced by the same Zodiac seat as the 787-9 and 777-200ER. Replacing the Spaceseat will allow additional Premium Economy seats to be fitted into the same cabin space in a 2-4-2 configuration which will in turn deliver a better return to the airline.
If this rumour is true it’ll be a very sad day indeed. I love the Spaceseat as a product, and it will be a shame to see it go.
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