How Air New Zealand Started the Process of Creating a New Cabin Environment

Last Updated Jan 26, 2010 10:03 AM EST

I know we try to focus on domestic US issues here on BNET, but this story is too interesting to ignore. I'm writing from Auckland, New Zealand where yesterday, Air New Zealand revealed its new cabin interiors to be rolled out this fall. They also walked us through the process of how they got there, and I thought it was fascinating. I can't imagine you'd see a US carrier do this.

It started more than three years ago when Air New Zealand knew it had 777s and 787s coming and CEO Rob Fyfe wanted to come up with something new that would not only make the customer experience much better, but wouldn't change the amount of room required for each seat. It also couldn't increase the cost of a seat for customers. That tall task was handed over to General Group Manager International Airline, Ed Sims, to spearhead.

Ed backed up and reviewed exactly what they were dealing with. Air New Zealand is an airline with a large percentage of leisure traffic with a lot of families and groups. They also are generally the first and last thing visitors to New Zealand see, so they are a big part of the tourism experience. They fly a large number of ultra long haul routes, the consequence of being in this corner of the world. With that in mind, they set to work.

Ed's initial thought was that he wanted people to say "wow" when they walked onboard whether it was their first trip or their 10th. Instead of simply brainstorming in house, they went outside. They went to renowned Palo Alto-based design gurus IDEO to help.

For nine months, IDEO lived and breathed Air NZ. They flew as crew members on the airline. They were passengers on Air NZ as well as on competitors. They spent hours and hours brainstorming and working out what they liked and what they didn't alongside the Air NZ guys. In the end, they had 30 different concepts that they could take forward.

Once they did that, they delved further into the customer habits to figure out what might be the best fit. Believe it or not, they found inspiration in The Simpsons.

After reviewing, they found there were five character types that flew the airline. Two were the outspoken, sociable types. First was Marge Simpson, the traveler who wants to talk the whole flight and loves the glamour of flying. As Ed said, the type of traveler you love sitting next to . . . for 30 minutes. Then there's Bart Simpson, a similar type but one who lives for the conversation and is not as concerned for the glamour of flight. That made up 39 percent of the airline's customers.

The other side is the more introverted group. First, there's Lisa Simpson who simply wants to zone out and get wrapped up in the inflight entertainment. Mr Burns is the one who knows exactly what he wants, uses Seat Guru, for example, and has the routine down. Mo Szyslak is the last one. He's completely disengaged and just wants to get there. That group makes up over 60 percent.

So how do you create your product to cater to all these people and then meet all safety/governmental regulations? I'll finish this up tomorrow.