Air New Zealand has today (January 26) announced that its forthcoming fleet of B777-300ERs will feature three new seating products and a “lie-flat" bed in economy. ANZ has spent six years designing a new economy and premium economy seat, the details of which have remained a closely guarded secret until now. The standard economy seat has been designed with an enhanced winged headrest, a new pillow and fully retractable armrests. Every economy seat on the B777-300ER (entering service this December) will also come with in-seat power and USB connections, allowing passengers to connect their MP3 players to the IFE. But it is the Skycouch concept that ANZ is most proud of. From April, when flights on the B777-300ERs go on sale for the first time, passengers will be able to buy three adjoining economy seats at a discounted price and then turn them into one fully flat bed, or rather couch. Not all economy seating will be available as a Skycouch however, only the first 11 rows in the economy cabin, and of those only the two sets of three seats by the windows, giving a total of 22 Skycouches per aircraft, or a total of 66 seats (11x3). Each Skycouch-ready seat can also be extended, effectively widening the sleeping surface. ANZ said that from April, couples and families wanting a Skycouch would be able to buy two seats for an extra NZ$200 each and then a third at around half price. The entire Premium Economy cabin on the B777 will feature ANZ’s new “Spaceseat”. The seat’s hard-backed shell means it does not recline backwards, but instead moves forward slightly. Seating configuration will be 2-2-2, rather than 3-3-3, to allow for the larger seats. The middle armrest is wider and can be raised for use as a table. Finally, ANZ’s Business Premier seat will remain much the same but with thicker foam cushioning, more storage, a better reading light and a redesigned IFE. Ed Sims, ANZ’s group general manager international airlines, said he “fully expected” other airlines to approach ANZ for a license to install its economy and premium economy seat designs, rather than the other way. Asked why ANZ was bringing in new seating now, having only introduced Business Premier four years ago and more premium economy seats across its fleet just last year, Sims said it was all to do with the B777-300ER. Sims said: “It was really conceived because of the urgency of the delivery of the B777-300 and the B787-900, and we thought that now was the right time for a complete redesign of our seats. “There was a time when airlines in our position could imagine six to seven years between product refurbishments, these days customers are so impatient for new developments that we think, realistically, that product cycles should be closer to three to fours years.” While the delivery of ANZ’s new B787 “Dreamliners” has slipped back to 2013, Sims said that this now gave ANZ the time to think of further innovations. “I dare not say that in front of the project team, they’ll kill me,” he added. All three products unveiled today will be available on ANZ’s new fleet of B777-300ERs, the first of which will be delivered in November this year and in service a month later on the Auckland to Los Angeles route. ANZ’s B777-300ER will serve Los Angeles to London Heathrow from April 2011. The rest of the fleet will be refitted with the new seating between 2011 and 2012. ANZ expects to have refitted 13 aircraft by 2012. While Premium Economy and Business Premier fares are not set to rise with the introduction of the new seats, full pricing details for the Skycouch will be released when tickets on the first B777-300ER go on sale in April. It is not yet known if economy passengers will be able to use loyalty points to upgrade to Skycouch, but ANZ said everything would become clear in April. Freshly cooked food Service across all three cabins is also set to be enhanced on the B777-300ER thanks to new fast-cook induction ovens and the ability to order food via the IFE screens. As well as ovens using conventional convection technology, the new cookers will give cabin crew more flexibility when preparing meals. In-flight poached eggs or oven-cooked steaks, in a short space of time, will soon be possible. Kerry Reeves, project manager overseeing the design of the new seats, told Business Traveller that service levels would be given a rethink so that cabin crew would have the time to cook fresh meals. “The service needs to be redesigned so that we use the crew more efficiently. We will be offering meals at set times, but rather than fill passengers up in one go, they’ll know that they can order a toasted cheese sandwich or whatever at any time,” Reeves said. Business Traveller asked Tricia Laurence, a member of ANZ’s cabin crew, what she thought about having to cook food from fresh. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” she said. “We’ll obviously have to undergo some additional training, but we don’t expect a higher workload. I just don’t think that’s how it’s going to turn out.” For more information visit airnewzealand.co.nz Report by Andrew Gough Ms Laurence (right) and colleague both wearing the new ANZ crew uniforms Will ANZ's lie-flat economy offering be a success? 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