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Gongs galore!

14th December 2008 - 16:36 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Air transport may be coughing and spluttering but the back-slappers from the awards industry are going full-throttle. Air New Zealand and Virgin America are among the latest laureates, while multi-medallist Qatar Airways has taken to dishing out some baubles of its own.

ANZ has taken this year’s Business Traveler magazine prize for best business class to the South Pacific. Serving destinations such as Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and a number of Pacific islands, the carrier has been commended for a business product that includes domestic check-in via barcodes sent to mobile phones and PDAs, a concierge service, lie-flat seats and more than 400 hours of inflight entertainment.

ANZ’s business seat is a 22in-wide leather armchair that converts into a 6ft 7.5in bed; it incorporates an ottoman footrest that doubles as a visitor’s seat.

The carrier launched a complete revamp of its Boeing 747 and 777-based long-haul product in 2004. First class was removed, business upgraded and a new premium economy section installed, with audio/video-on-demand IFE available in every seat. The business-class seats are laid out in herringbone configuration – a la Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific – to give every passenger direct aisle access.

Air New Zealand’s premium economy is in a cabin of its own but shares lavatories, mood lighting and in-seat power with business class. The premium economy seats are wider than those of economy in the 747s, and the same width on the 777s. On both types there is more legroom than in standard economy. The economy seat is a new design offering more space, a flexible seat-edge providing more leg support when reclined, and an 8.4in screen.

Business Traveler also gladdened the hearts of the publicity-hounds at Virgin America, dubbing the San Francisco-based carrier the best low-cost airline in North America. “With Aircell inflight Internet due to be in place fleetwide by next spring, we’re continuing to innovate and deliver an experience that keeps business travellers comfortable, entertained and connected to their work and lives,” says chief executive David Cush.

Virgin America boasts the youngest airline fleet in the USA. Its Airbus A320-family aircraft feature leather seats, laptop power points outlets near every seat, the much vaunted Panasonic-based Red IFE offering, and now Aircell’s Gogo air-to-ground broadband service in two aircraft so far. Red gives passengers touchscreen food ordering, 25 on-demand films, seat-to-seat chat, 3,000 music tracks, and DISH Network live television.

The carrier recently announced a new product called Main Cabin Select. This offers 38in of seat pitch, free food and drink, an all-access pass to Red’s premium content, and priority check-in and boarding. Its first-class product includes priority check-in and boarding, and white leather seats at 55in pitch.

Previous Virgin America campaign medals include best US domestic first and business class in the Zagat global airlines survey for this year and 2007, best domestic airline from Travel + Leisure World, best travel value from guide publisher Frommer’s, and best domestic airline and best US business/first class from Condé Nast Traveler.

Even more bemedalled is Qatar Airways, which has bagged no fewer than ten awards so far this year. So excited is the Middle Eastern carrier with the whole notion that it has just launched its own Oryx awards for travel partners in Canada.

Handed out on Friday in Toronto, the awards recognise the companies who deal with Qatar customers arriving in North America via its gateway cities of Washington DC and New York. “Canada is one of our biggest offline markets,” said chief executive Akbar Al-Baker. “We look forward to strengthening our relationship with existing travel partners and forging new ones as we grow our business in this part of North America.”

The Shephard News Team


The Shephard News Team

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