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How Air New Zealand has transformed the inflight experience

Air New Zealand has come a long way since its beginnings in 1940 and remains committed to its promise to deliver the best onboard customer experience through world-class products and services.

Over the years, the global airline industry has seen major transformations – from customisable mood lighting to vegan food options, there has never been a better time to fly. Such innovations have been critical in edging out competitors, and adopting a customer-centred design approach has earned Air New Zealand’s many awards for its Premium Economy cabin.

Most recently at the Skytrax World Airline Awards, Air New Zealand scooped up another two of such accolades. So how did a Kiwi airline that started out with flying boats in the 1940s make its mark on the global aviation stage?

We take a closer look at how Air New Zealand has transformed the inflight experience over time and what exactly makes the world’s best air travel experience.

Past: Looking back on the golden age of air travel

Food and beverages have always been an important part of the inflight experience, and since day one, Air New Zealand has been an innovator in this space.

When the airline was first established as Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) in the 1940s, it was the first airline in the world to boil water onboard. Luxurious feasts were also served – with delicacies such as fresh oysters, lobster to ham on the bone, a flight used to be likened to an extravagant party in the sky.

Later in the 1960s – known as a revolutionary decade for fashion – TEAL introduced the first ever designer uniform, created by French fashion house Christian Dior.

Present: Elevating the inflight experience to new heights

Fast forward to present day, every aspect of air travel has undergone dramatic changes to meet the growing demands of today’s travellers.

Leg room is often highly sought after, especially on long-haul flights, which is why Air New Zealand is always looking for ways to provide more space and privacy. In Business Premier there are lie-flat seats, while in Premium Economy, customers can enjoy roomy leather seats, with generous armrests, a leg rest and extendable foot support. Passengers can even adjust the armchairs for more recline and footrest to provide maximum stretch-out and comfort. This earned the airline the title of Best Premium Economy Seat at Skytrax World Airline Awards.

During long haul flights, passengers can lie down even in the Economy cabin – courtesy of the revolutionary Economy Skycouch introduced in 2011. The Skycouch combines a row of three Economy seats into a couch big enough for two adult passengers or a bunch of kids to sleep, eat and play on!

This year, Air New Zealand introduced the Skycouch Infant Harness, Belt and Pod, allowing infants to remain lying down throughout the cruise phase of the flight. Such amenities ensure that families are able to travel in comfort and enjoy a relaxing journey.

The sky’s the limit for air travel and the same can be said about Air New Zealand’s award-winning inflight entertainment system, which features over 2,000 hours of content from movie, television and audio titles. And with enhanced connectivity, passengers can even order food and drinks from their touch screens, and chat with friends without having to leave their seats. In 2016, the airline received Best Inflight Entertainment Innovation at the prestigious Air Passenger Experience Awards.

The Airband, a smart wristband for children travelling unaccompanied, was first introduced in late 2015 and allows parents and guardians to track their kids’ whereabouts. The product is embedded with a chip which is scanned at key stages of the journey to trigger text notifications to up to five nominated contacts. This is the first time such technology has been used by an airline for the purpose of providing caregivers greater peace of mind when their child is travelling alone. The Airband was named Innovation of the Year at the 2016 CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Awards.

Most recently, Air New Zealand collaborated with Silicon Valley food tech start-up Impossible Foods and became the first airline in the world to serve passengers the plant-based Impossible Burger – a vegan, meatless burger that tastes just like the real thing.

Future: Harnessing technology to transform the inflight experience

The future is bright as the aviation industry ventures further into the world of technology, tapping the power of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and cloud solutions.

Air New Zealand has developed a strong global reputation for its innovative approaches, having worked with a range of technology partners and introduced a number of new technologies to enhance the flying experience.

The airline has fostered a strong culture of experimentation with new and emerging technologies such as the HoloLens. In collaboration with Dimension Data, Air New Zealand is exploring how Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) viewer HoloLens can enhance its inflight customer service. The HoloLens will help flight attendants customise their service to each passenger by aggregating and displaying key information directly in front of them.

As Air New Zealand embarks on a journey to revolutionise the air travel experience, the airline is developing exciting new experiences with Magic Leap, which will highlight the dramatic, diverse landscapes and activities that make New Zealand a unique tourism destination. Together with London-based creative studio Framestore, Air New Zealand is creating a “Fantastical Journey throughout New Zealand” that allows travellers to experience the country in a completely new way with Magic Leap. This first-time experience will debut later this year and is part of a longer-term programme committed to redefining travel experiences.

Over half of airlines are planning AI programmes over the next three years and travellers can expect a wide range of unique features including chatbots and even digital humans.

Have a question about your baggage limits? Speak to Air New Zealand’s very own AI chatbot Oscar – introduced in 2017 on the airline’s website, the chatbot is designed to answer commonly asked flight, baggage, lounge and Airpoints queries. Oscar gets smarter with every interaction and as of today, he has had conversations on more than 380 different topics, and successfully answers close to 75 per cent of questions.

The airline’s Sophie goes a step further – a digital human created in collaboration with Soul Machines, Sophie takes questions about the airline and even New Zealand tourism. New Zealanders will feel right at home as Sophie boasts a Kiwi accent and has advanced emotional intelligence, adjusting to passengers’ cues and reactions.

Air New Zealand has come a long way since its beginnings in 1940 and remains committed to its promise to deliver the best onboard customer experience through world-class products and services. As industry players like Air New Zealand continue to develop game-changing technologies that could potentially transform the global sector, the years ahead are guaranteed to be an exciting journey.

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Tatiana is the news co-ordinator for TravelDailyNews Media Network (, and Her role includes to monitor the hundrends of news sources of TravelDailyNews Media Network and skim the most important according to our strategy. She holds a Bachelor degree in Communication & Mass Media from Panteion University of Political & Social Studies of Athens and she has been editor and editor-in-chief in various economic magazines and newspapers.