The airline that introduced the innovative skycouch economy class product is creating another seating zone in its main long haul economy cabin. Air New Zealand is rolling out “economy stretch” in 2020. It will use its existing economy class seat but feature extra legroom and a few premium economy style amenities. It is emblematic of a trend towards seat differentiation across the big economy class cabins of long haul full-service carriers.
Rolling out economy stretch across 2020
By the end of 2020, Air New Zealand expects to have all its wide-bodied long haul aircraft configured with economy stretch seats. Air New Zealand’s wide-bodied long haul fleet is comprised of eight Boeing 777-200ERs, eight Boeing 777-300ERS, and 13 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Air New Zealand is styling their new economy stretch product as a more spacious economy class seat with extra legroom and perks.
Air New Zealand’s Chief Revenue Officer, Cam Wallace, said in a statement;
“We know one size doesn’t fit all and we want customers to have a fantastic experience, whatever the cabin. Economy customers told us they want more space and comfort and we’re looking forward to giving customers a new option when travelling long haul.”
Economy stretch isn’t premium economy lite
But let’s be straight up about this. This isn’t premium economy lite. The economy stretch product is the standard Air New Zealand long haul economy class seat. The key point of difference is the seat pitch. In standard economy class, seat pitch is 31”-32”.
In economy stretch, seat pitch will be 35”. Further forward in the aircraft, up in premium economy, seat pitch is 41” and the configuration is 2-3-2. The configuration in economy stretch will be 3-3-3, the same as the rest of the main economy class cabin.
In terms of bonus amenities, Air New Zealand proposes offering a decent pillow and better headphones than is the norm in economy class. Food and drinks will be off the same cart feeding and watering the rest of the economy class passengers. There will be no perks like bonus luggage allowances, priority check-in or priority boarding. It falls short of premium economy in a long way.
But that’s okay because Air New Zealand isn’t looking to cannibalize its popular and profitable premium economy product. Economy stretch will be available for sale from early in 2020 and you’d also expect the ticket price to fall considerably short of premium economy. According to Cam Wallace;
“While our premium cabins will remain the first choice for those wanting all the luxuries, economy stretch is a step up at a competitive price, and we’re confident it will appeal.”
Splitting the economy cabin is an emerging trend
Air New Zealand’s move into splitting its main economy into different price based zones follows an emerging trend set by competitors such as United Airlines. On most of its long haul aircraft, United Airlines offers a standard economy class product and what it calls economy plus. Seat width remains the same, but the pitch in economy plus is greater, and the zone is at the front of the main economy cabin.
The Air New Zealand template for its economy stretch product is very similar. Although competitors, the two Star Alliance members are matey enough, codesharing on some of their transpacific and domestic flights and joining forces in an ongoing passive-aggressive turf war against the other competing transpacific factions; QF/AA and VA/DL.
Air New Zealand got attention several years ago when it introduced the skycouch product in its economy cabin. It was a clever idea that required no cabin modifications. For a premium on the economy ticket price, passengers get a whole row to themselves and some bedding and pillows. Air New Zealand says you can stretch out, just like at home on the sofa.
Well, not quite, but it’s getting there. I’ve only used it once. It was pretty comfortable – the best economy class flight I’ve ever had and I’d opt for a skycouch over most airline’s premium economy product. And I’d take a skycouch over the proposed economy stretch product any day.
Simple Flying has approached Air New Zealand seeking some clarity around economy stretch pricing. Air New Zealand had not responded prior to publication.