Air New Zealand Will Offer More Legroom In Economy Class (For A Price)

a large airplane parked at an airport

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It’s not exactly a secret that the amount of legroom on offer in Economy Class cabins has been on the decline for years. Mainstream airlines like British Airways, American, Lufthansa, and Qantas have offered as little as 30″ of legroom on a selection of their short-haul aircraft for some time while an airline offering more than 31″ of legroom in long-haul Economy Class (e.g. Singapore Airlines) is getting harder and harder to find.

Air New Zealand may have shown quite a bit of innovation when it introduced the Skycouch concept back in 2011 but its long-haul Economy Class cabins are mostly just as cramped and tight as the Economy Class cabins on a lot of other airlines.

a row of seats in an airplane
Air New Zealand 787-9 Economy Class

A standard Economy Class seat on an Air New Zealand long-haul aircraft offers 31″ of legroom and between 17″ and 17.8″ of seat width and that’s not a lot of personal space to hae on aircraft that are often in the air for 10+ hours.

I wouldn’t travel in a seat that tight on a long-haul flight so I’d either book an exit row or not fly at all if I didn’t want to pay (or couldn’t pay) the high premium for Premium Economy or Business Class….and it looks as if I’m not alone.

Introducing Economy Stretch

Air New Zealand appears to believe that there are a significant number of flyers for whom its standard Economy Class seats are too tight and for whom the cost of Premium Economy is too high and it plans to monetize this group – welcome to “Economy Stretch”.

Economy Stretch is the latest idea from Air New Zealand and it will see the airline reconfiguring its Boeing 777-200, 777-300 and 787-9 aircraft to fit a “stretch zone” at the front of the Economy cabin where seats will offer 35″ of legroom.

The airline says that its long-haul aircraft will house “up to 42 of these spacious spots” and that the new product will be available for purchase “from early next year” and will be offered on all Air New Zealand long-haul flights “from late 2020”.

Importantly, the seats that Air New Zealand will be using in Economy Stretch will be no different from the seats that you’ll find in Economy Class right now so the stretch zone won’t give passengers any more lateral space, just more legroom.

Once the retrofit is complete this is how much legroom will be on offer by a standard seat in each of Air New Zealand’s cabins and sub-cabins on long-haul aircraft:

  • Business Class: 79.5″
  • Premium Economy: 41″
  • Economy Stretch: 35″
  • Economy Class: 31″

Air New Zealand has left a few questions unanswered with this announcement because although it has said that Economy Stretch will be on sale at a “competitive price” it hasn’t given any examples of what the premium to sit in Economy Stretch may be.

It also hasn’t said if some (or all) elite flyers will be able to select Economy Stretch seats for free (as happens with Economy Plus seating on United for example) or if elites will have to pay the higher fare just like everyone else.

a row of seats with screens on the back
Air New Zealand 787-9 Economy Class

Possible Short-Term Freebie?

Air New Zealand says that its aircraft are already being reconfigured with the new Economy Stretch zone but it also says that the product won’t be available for purchase until next year, and this may open up an opportunity.

I don’t know exactly how long it takes to reconfigure a long-haul aircraft with an Economy Stretch zone but I do know that it doesn’t take months.

If Air New Zealand is already reconfiguring its aircraft then these aircraft will be back in service before next year so, with the airline not planning on charging for these seats until “early next year”, these seats will presumably be available for free (for flyers who don’t already pay for seat selection) or for the standard seat selection fee (for flyers who currently pay to choose their seats).

Bottom Line

This should be good news for a lot of Air New Zealand flyers as their seating options will no longer involve a simple choice between an affordable cramped Economy Class seat or a considerably more expensive (and, admittedly, considerably more comfortable) Premium Economy seat – there will be a middle ground.

As much as I love flying in Premium Cabins I spend my fair share of time in Economy Class cabins too and this is definitely an option I’d look into if the price was right…and I suspect quite a few other flyers will feel the same way.

It will be interesting to see Economy Stretch will be added as an elite benefit and if that benefit will extend to Star Alliance elites as well as Air New Zealand’s own. If this is what ends up happening it will be a notable enhancement (in the good sense) to Airpoints and Star Alliance elite status.


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