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Jim Eagles: Putting the romance back into flying

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Flying may become a pleasure instead of a chore with Air NZ's innovative new approach. Photo / Janna Dixon
Flying may become a pleasure instead of a chore with Air NZ's innovative new approach. Photo / Janna Dixon

You may have noticed that over the holiday period Air New Zealand finally took delivery of the first of its five Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

It's been a much-anticipated arrival because this is the plane which will introduce cuddle-class - a flat bed made from three seats - plus slightly more room and the ability to order snacks via the video screen in economy; improved seats and a menu that includes the likes of tapas, pizzas and gourmet burgers in premium economy; and freshly cooked meals prepared on demand in business premier; plus a swish new decore and an inflight entertainment service which includes access to YouTube and provides news updates.

Innovations like those have already seen Air NZ named as Air Transport World's Airline of the Year and Conde Nast Best Long Haul Leisure Airline and the aviation industry is watching closely to see what effect they have on passenger number and profits.

Having checked out the new ideas on the ground some months ago, at Air NZ's so-called test hangar in Fanshawe St, I was very keen to try the actual plane for myself. Unfortunately, the delivery flight kept being postponed until it got to the point where it would have wrecked our plans for a family Christmas, so I had to pull out.

However, those who were able to experience the various innovations in action seem to have been hugely impressed.

In handing over the plane, Boeing's vice-president for the 777 aircraft, Larry Loftis, said Air NZ's interior was "the best in the air".

And the company's vice-president for sales and marketing, Marlin Dailey, said the airline was demonstrating once again "that they are a forward-thinking airline with revolutionary ideas".

Perhaps more significantly, even the cynical scribblers on the trip appear to feel the same way.

Veteran Australasian aviation journalist Geoffrey Thomas commented in his electronic magazine Flightpaths that when passengers on the delivery flight boarded for the first time, "quiet awe was the reaction and a sense of privilege that one was witnessing aviation history".

After experiencing the new plane in action he concluded, "While New Zealand may be at the bottom of the world, its airline is at the top of its game."

Unfortunately, the average passenger won't be able to see for themselves whether this really is a new era in aviation for a while - the cuddle-class seats, for instance, have yet to be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority - but over the next few months the 777-300ERs will run on more routes until by next year most long-haul flights will be covered.

Could this truly be the plane that puts the romance back into flying? That's a big ask. But it'll certainly add a bit of excitement to an industry that has often seemed to be mainly intent on squeezing ever more passengers into an ever smaller space.

- NZ Herald

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