Having tabled a feature for Airline Business about the ever-evolving passenger experience, I'm reminded
again of the staggering amount of work that went into developing one of the most passenger-centric long-haul products on the market - Air New Zealand's new Boeing 777-300ER offering.
But did you know that the popular cartoon The Simpsons played a role in the product's development?
2007, when Air New Zealand started to review a project for introducing the 777-300ER and 787 into its fleet - at that
stage planned for 2010 - the carrier knew it wanted to take the 3.5-year lead
time to totally reinvent the long-haul travel experience.
"There was no text book on how to [reinvent long-haul] but we realized there was a need for it," says Air New Zealand manager of aircraft programmes Kerry Reeves.
The airline tapped design firm IDEO to help them gather insights into their passengers. Through observation, surveys and research, Air New Zealand was able to break-down its passengers into different personas, ending up with five different character types that if found could be best illustrated by using characters from The Simpsons.
"We had a bunch of people on board the aircraft that were classic Mr. Burns characters, frequent travellers that were very demanding. Then we had the bartender types, who are very laid back; the Marge Simpson-type infrequent traveller who wants to engage in the experience; the Bart Simpson character who is always social and can't entertainment himself; and the Lisa Simpson type, who is very sort of semi-social, but is very well informed and knows everything about travel," says Air New Zealand's Reeves.
Working with Panasonic, Air New Zealand was able to offer an in-flight entertainment (IFE) system on its 777-300ERs that allows these different types of passengers to define the experience they want on board. "IFE allows you to create lots of different ways for people to interact. An IFE graphical user interface that is simple and easy to find basic movies is all that some people want, but having the technology to support a more geeky interaction was important, and that widespread opportunity exists with the IFE," says Reeves.
The same thinking went into designing Air New Zealand's acclaimed seats.
"Designing seats to allow people to choose whether they interact or not was challenging but we designed a lot of seat positions. We offer different seat experiences in different classes, which give people choice in where they can sit. Our premium economy Spaceseat is quite different. It gives you the choice of a seat that allows you to interact with the person you're travelling with so if you're travelling with your wife or partner, they are angled slightly away from each other, but are shaped to turn towards each other and using the centre console they can dine together," says Reeves.
"We have six abreast in the 777 and we'll have six abreast in the 787. So apart from the window seat, everyone has aisle access which is a huge bonus. Business class is very much like a first class product. It has very good fully-flat seat position. Our business class seat was originally designed by Virgin Atlantic and we have taken it to another level now and improved the sleep proposition considerably. So the seat flips over upside down so you're not sleeping on a sleep surface that is undulating, you're sleeping on a completely flat mattress, and then on top of that mattress again we have memory foam underlay that is just under two inches thick, so it is a very soft surface much like own bed at home."
Air New Zealand is also gearing up to offer in-flight connectivity on its long-haul aircraft. At present, a concierge on board the 777-300ER can use a satellite phone or the ACARS system to check on flight times and bookings, and to change bookings should a passenger require such service.
Read about Air New Zealand's connectivity plans here.