Review: Air New Zealand B787-9 Economy Skycouch, Auckland – Papeete


French Polynesia is one of the more challenging destinations to get to using miles. While we had a ticket home from French Polynesia on Air Tahiti Nui courtesy of American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier program, we had to position ourselves to get to French Polynesia. In order to do so, we had finished our Alaska Mileage Plan redemption in Auckland. We purchased ourselves a one way from New Zealand to French Polynesia in order to minimize our time on revenue tickets. Our only revenue flight on this trip would have us on an Air New Zealand Skycouch for four hours as we flew into French Polynesia.

This post is one chapter on our trip to Fiji, New Zealand and French Polynesia. This trip was redeemed through Alaska Mileage Plan and AAdvantage frequent flier programs and enhanced through Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Air New Zealand B787-9 Economy Class Skycouch, Auckland International Airport, Papeete Faa’a International Airport

We left the Air New Zealand Auckland International Lounge and headed towards the gate at about fifty minutes prior to our flight.. The British “Harrod’s” retail outpost that was present the last time I passed through the Auckland International Airport in the year 1998 was now gone. There were some entertaining signs on the flight departure screens on the walk down. Just relax!

Navigating the Auckland International Airport Departure Concourse
Your Flight Status: “Relax”

We arrived to the gate at about forty five minutes prior to our flight, in fancy a wall to wall carpeted zone. Although boarding on our card was posted for sixty minutes before our flight, nothing was happening.

Arriving to fully carpeted Auckland Gate 6
A Bright Boarding Area
Air New Zealand Flight #40
Air New Zealand
Economy Class Skycouch (S)
AKL-BHE (Auckland – Papeete)
NZ 40
June 12, 2017
Booked: Boeing 787-800
Flown: Boeing 787-900
Departure: 9:25 AM
Arrival: 4:25 PM + 1

When boarding started, it was an all at once priority boarding call (Business Premier, Premium Economy, Star Alliance Gold members). As a result, about 45 of us lined up all together in order to get on the plane.

On Board Air New Zealand Economy Class Skycouch:

The Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 economy section is set up in a 3 – 3 – 3 configuration. We had booked a window and an aisle on hopes that no one would be assigned a middle in the premium top tier section at the front of the cabin (accessed thanks to Star Alliance Gold status). We were able to get our rolling suitcases stored in the overhead without any space issues.

Air New Zealand Economy Class Cabin, with silver stripe seats designating “The Works” Fare travellers

Air New Zealand has de-constructed their air fares, allowing for the purchase of various levels which include “Seat Only”, the intermediate “Seat and Bag”, and “The Works” which includes on board food, beverages and entertainment. We had purchased a “The Works” fare, consistent with a usual international ticket. Sharp eyed observers will note that some of the seats have a different head rest marking on them consisting of a silver stripe which differentiates “the Works” customers so staff aren’t required to check boarding cards the whole time.

Air New Zealand Economy Class Cabin
A Pillow and Blanket were on Each Chair

As we ended up with a seat mate, and an unexpected empty row behind us, we made a quick move as soon as the flight attendent “boarding complete” public address announcement was made.

We ended up in the row occupying the window and aisle seats on the outer bank with an empty middle a la European business class. There was ample leg room for our flight. Each bank of seats also offered in seat power through an Empower plug.

Air New Zealand was first to market with the entertaining safety videos. This month’s movie featured Rachel Hunter (Rod Stewart’s past wife).

Entertaining In Flight Safety Videos
Rachel Hunter reminded me of in flight safety

The In Flight Entertainment System:

Each Air New Zealand seat on this Boeing 787-9 offered an individual entertainment system. This included an in seat back screen that was touch based.

While we were waiting to get underway, I experimented with the Flight Map. Although the flight map features had highlights of the destinations that Air New Zealand serviced with pop up bubbles, I found the bubbles to be a bit annoying and distracting when you’re trying to enjoy the map.

Departing Auckland on the Flight Map
Flight Statstics on the Map

There were a reasonable selection of movies available, although I didn’t really watch anything all too memorable.

Some Movies on the Air New Zealand In Flight System

We had take off from New Zealand; the track led us immediately out over the water. There were beautiful over the wing views as we departing the commonwealth country of New Zealand.

Views from the Wing: Departing New Zealand
Views from the Wing: Departing New Zealand’s islands

Food and Beverage:

After we had gotten underway, a lunch service was offered. The meal was included in our “The Works” fare. The choices were a chicken curry with rice or a beef casserole with potatoes dauphinois. I went with the chicken curry and it was good meal for the portion that was delivered. It admittedly has been a very long time since I have had an international economy class meal. I usually try to fully eat before flights.

The meal was good but didn’t fill me up for long. I was starving when we landed in Papeete. The meal service ended in the first third of the flight.

Meal Service Ended in the First Third of the Flight

Air New Zealand Economy Class Skycouch Review:

Air New Zealand offers an Economy Class Skycouch on all its Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 aircrafts. Air New Zealand is the only carrier in the world to offer this type of configuration. In concept, it offers additional space within the economy class bank of seats to sit, stretch out or lie down. You don’t share the space with any other travellers so it adds some flexibility to what is typically a very conventionally arranged space. The price point is slightly more than two Economy Class seats, but not as much as three Economy Class seats or an upgrade for two into Premium Economy Class.

The Air New Zealand Skycouch is activated by pressing a second button on the armrest. After we had gotten airborne, flight attendents dropped off the couple belt.

Specifically Modified Seatbelts

A series of cards were made available on how to properly use the Economy Skycouch, including a diagram of approved “positions”.

Instructional Guide: Welcome to your Economy Skycouch
Air New Zealand: Official Approved Seating Configuration Chart

Once the seat cushion is elevated, you have yourself a sleeping and relaxing zone that is contained within your bank of three economy seats.

The Air New Zealand Economy Skycouch

We tried out the Sky Couch. We found it to be a bit of a mixed experience of both good and bad.

MrsWT73 who happens to be 5ft 3 inches, loved the sky couch. She liked that she could sit cross-legged on the seat and that you could tip over and just go to sleep. She was able to contort herself in a manner that was comfortable for couch lounging; in either straight legged or cross legged lounging…

Economy Class Skycouch Lounging: Straight Legged
Economy Class Skycouch: Cross Legged Lounging

I had a different experience. At a tall 6ft 2 inches, I found the couch exceptionally compact and not really a value add. I found my body frame was too long to sleep in a fully flat position without bending my legs in a sharp kink to avoid my leg length from going into the aisle. This configuration might be okay if I was on my own and had the whole couch to myself and wasn’t travelling with another partner. However having to share the Skycouch with another passenger, my bent knees and size wouldn’t really have been comfortable for the couch partner, since they’d had to distort themselves around my tall shape.

In terms of lounging, I wasn’t able to slouch in the Skycouch, having my feet up against the couch with my back against the wall because tall bodies don’t bend quite that way. The couch fold up is in two pieces. I ended up just seated in the economy seat with my feet flat on the floor (without couch feature) and MrsWT73 used the couch along with the middle seat space. I frankly found it more comfortable to rest with my head against the fuselage wall in an upright position than use the couch.

The Economy Skycouch Bottom Line:

My Air New Zealand Economy Class Skycouch summary and opinion is: if you are choosing between a Skycouch and premium economy: premium economy is far better every time. I would likely only choose this configuration if premium economy was completely sold out or double the price of the Skycouch. If you were travelling with an infant, this may be of tremendous value to you. However, getting a bassinet seat may also work just as well.


Arriving into Papeete, French Polynesia:

Towards the end of the flight, having exhausted the use of the Economy Class SkyCouch, we had a cloudy approach into Papeete with some views of Moorea on the left side of the approach.

Descending into French Polynesia
Our first glimpse of Moorea, French Polynesia

We touched down into a grey and cloudy Papeete, French Polynesia. We pulled up to a non gate position and were let out into a rainy island of Tahiti Nui. We also re-gained a day having crossed the international date line, and got the opportunity to experience June 12, 2017 all over again

Landing at Faa’a International Airport
Views of Faa’a International Airport and the hills of Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia
Disemarking Air New Zealand on Air Tahiti Jet Bridges
Our Black Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 on the ramp at PPT

We had a musical arrival and arrived into a very third world airport. The airport appears to be under renovation and is in a terrible mess. There was no air conditioning in the arrivals hallonly a few tired rotating ceiling fans so everything was a hot muggy mess. Surprisingly, the photos represent better than it actually was.

A Musical Arrival at Faa’a International Airport

For immigration processing, we were divided into two lines: one for international passports and one for EC passports. Surprisingly, there were about 60 + people in the EC Passports line. Where are all these EC passport holders coming from? Did they travel to New Zealand from Europe and add on a trip to French Polynesia? Either way, it was a very slow go of immigration despite only our plane in the arrival hall. It took us probably about 35 – 40 minutes just to get stamped in to French Polynesia. Today’s international entry stamp would mark country number #63 for me.

Passports etrangers: A Slow Immigration Line

The largest surprise was with the state of the Papeete International Airport, which was under a massive, but seemly stalled, refurbishment. For a destination that is supposed to be so upscale, the state of the airport didn’t make a great first impression.

Baggage Claim at Papeete

We bypassed the almost street pricing duty free on arrival store. It was cheaper to have packed wine from New Zealand in the suitcases; which we did. We cleared the baggage hall and went to change some money into Polynesian French Francs. We found a taxi outside in the taxi rank to take us over to the Le Meridien Tahiti hotel, which would be our home for the next three nights.

Tahiti Duty Free on Arrival

My Thoughts on Air New Zealand Skycouch and International Service:

The Air New Zealand flight to French Polynesia is one of the few ways to get to the Islands of Tahiti, with the other carrier being Air Tahiti Nui. I think it’s probably a bit of a toss between the two carriers. We didn’t earn any frequent flier miles on this ticket, despite being over a $500 paid “The Works” ticket since Air New Zealand doesn’t credit many base fares to Star Alliance under their Air New Zealand Airpoints program. While it was neat to try the Air New Zealand Skycouch, I didn’t find it as comfortable as I might have liked being a tall traveller.

If you regularly travel on Air New Zealand International Flights, do you find they are value for money ?

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