Air New Zealand is to revamp its Tasman and Pacific Island services to provide customers with a compelling new travel experience. Group General Manager Short Haul Airlines Norm Thompson said today that Air New Zealand would focus on providing customers with higher-quality product and services on its short-haul network following an extensive review of its Tasman operations.
“As part of our review we surveyed our frequent trans-Tasman customers, and the overwhelming preference was for us to focus on upgrading and enhancing our services.”
Over the next 18 months, Air New Zealand will progressively introduce changes including a more spacious section of economy seating, new state-of-the art in-flight entertainment services and new food and beverage menus.
Mr Thompson also said that from 30 March 2008 Air New Zealand services would replace Freedom Air services on the Tasman, to provide customers with a more consistent and higher quality travel service.
“Customers flying the Tasman today have a range of experiences depending on which of our airlines they are flying, and which aircraft they’re travelling on. We are realigning our services so that customers know what to expect - and have that expectation met - at every step of their journey.”
Freedom Air has been operating for more than 10 years and Mr Thompson said it had provided more than four million Kiwis and Australians with a great low-cost travel option during that time. “The reality is that the price of airfares has fallen dramatically over the past ten years, and today there is little difference between Freedom and Air New Zealand fares.”
Mr Thompson said customers surveyed had emphasised the need for an improved food offering, more leg-room and in-flight entertainment choices while maintaining Air New Zealand’s competitive pricing.
Air New Zealand announced in June that it would spend more than $50m on equipping its A320s and 767s with individual on-demand personal entertainment screens, giving customers access to more than 450 hours of movie, television and audio content.
Mr Thompson said Air New Zealand would also alter the configuration on its 767 and A320 aircraft to create greater seat pitch at the front of the aircraft, where frequent fliers often travel, without affecting the pitch at the back of the aircraft. This will be achieved through the removal of a galley on the A320 aircraft and the removal of a row of economy seating on the 767.
“This will see Air New Zealand offer the best economy seat pitch of any airline flying the Tasman.”
Mr Thompson said that the first six economy rows (36 seats) of the A320 aircraft and the first seven economy rows (50 seats) of the 767 aircraft will have increased seat pitch, from 30-31 inches to 35 or more inches.
“This will allow more than 20% of customers travelling in economy on these aircraft to enjoy more space and greater comfort on their Tasman and Pacific Island journeys,” he said.
Mr Thompson said the new configuration would ensure customers purchasing higher fares enjoy an experience commensurate with the fare paid, while allowing price-conscious customers to take advantage of super-low fares.
“We remain committed to being the price leader in every fare category while providing great value no matter where you sit in the aircraft.”
The reconfiguration work will be completed by Air New Zealand’s Technical Operations team, which is working through detailed plans and specifications.
Mr Thompson said the changes will be implemented over the next 18 months, with all reconfigurations and IFE upgrades expected to be completed by the end of 2008.
At the same time, the interior of a number of aircraft will be refreshed to reflect the colours and design used on long-haul services.
New meal options on Air New Zealand’s Tasman and Pacific services, featuring a wider selection of dishes for each meal, have this week been introduced. Native ingredients such as kawakawa and horopito have been used to ensure a truly unique New Zealand culinary experience.
Menu options will change monthly and include smoked Chicken and Cheese Frittata with Horopito for breakfast, a range of gourmet salads for lunch and Chicken Cordon Bleu and Thai Fish cakes with Sweet Chilli for dinner. Most dishes will be served with a fresh side salad and customers will be able to enjoy a wide range of refreshments including New Zealand wines.
Mr Thompson said as part of the Tasman review Freedom Air’s direct services to and from Palmerston North to Sydney and Brisbane would be suspended from 30 March 2008. It would instead put this aircraft capacity into other sectors, where there is far stronger passenger demand.
“While our direct service to Brisbane has been popular during some months, bookings on the direct service to Sydney are not strong enough for us to continue to justify a commercial Tasman operation out of the region.
“We had been hoping to strengthen demand for Palmerston North services by combining Qantas and Air New Zealand demand with the proposed Tasman codeshare arrangement. But when this proposal was discontinued, the future of such routes became far less certain.”
Air New Zealand expected Wellington Airport to be the main beneficiary of the discontinuance of trans-Tasman services to and from Palmerston North.
Mr Thompson said the switch from Freedom to Air New Zealand meant the national carrier would add nine new city pairs, including one new Australian port (Coolangatta) and two new New Zealand ports (Dunedin and Hamilton) to its international network. From Australia, Air New Zealand will now fly directly to more New Zealand ports than any other carrier.
“The switch from Freedom Air to Air New Zealand will have a number of advantages for many passengers, including the ability for them to earn Air New Zealand Airpoints, enjoy seamless booking services and all the other great benefits that arise from Air New Zealand’s full service network.”
Mr Thompson said that no redundancies were anticipated. Affected staff were being consulted and would be offered jobs within the Group.
Air New Zealand instigated the Tasman review after its proposed codeshare agreement with Qantas on the Tasman was turned down, to look at new ways of improving its competitiveness in the market.
“We are confident that the new measures announced today will continue to see
Air New Zealand’s share of the Tasman market strengthen, as it has done over the past 12 months, and clearly position Air New Zealand’s Tasman and Pacific Island services into the future,” he said.
Air New Zealand offers more capacity and frequency across the Tasman and Pacific Islands than any other airline flying to or from New Zealand, carrying nearly three million customers on its short-haul international network each year.