Over the weekend, Air New Zealand flight NZ80 went mechanical in Hong Kong, forcing 80 passengers to sleep in the airport terminal. These passengers included Air New Zealand chairman Tony Carter.
As reported by the Daily Mail online:
This failing is surely of concern to Air New Zealand’s partners such as Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia, and most importantly on this route: North Asia Alliance partner Cathay Pacific.
Passengers took to social media to comment on the service:
The events follow Air New Zealand stranding passengers for three days in July 2014. At that time, the airline issued an apology and pledged to do things better next time:
“Due to an unfortunate combination of events this group of passengers has travelled to Honolulu Airport on three occasions expecting to fly, however, on each occasion the aircraft has been unable to depart because of a series of evolving engineering issues.
“A part was required and we attempted to source a replacement within the US, however, despite assurances, the right part was not supplied. Fortunately, as a backup, we also loaded the part onto NZ10 from our Auckland Technical Operations base this morning and this will arrive in Honolulu this evening.”
… “We are incredibly sorry to have let our customers down and will conduct a full review to see how we could have managed this disruption better.”
After that three-day delay, Air New Zealand ended up paying every passenger NZ$1000 (~AU$915) in compensation.
Reputation and Brand
Air New Zealand has worked hard, and achieved success, in promoting its brand. The ‘Airline of the Year’ doesn’t have the scale of some of the established giants of global aviation and so has needed to do things a bit differently.
Where the airline struggles is reputation. Having a strong reputation as an airline means delivering on the brand.
While we’ve seen comments on Facebook from passengers saying they’ve been completely satisfied with Air New Zealand business class, that has not been our experience.
While we haven’t had any Air New Zealand planes go tech on us lately, our recent experiences with Air New Zealand include:
- Flying Business Premier class from San Francisco to Auckland in a filthy cabin, with disappointing service (including our bedding being taken away 2 1/2 hours prior to landing).
- A flight from Sydney to Auckland in business class with such slow service that the flight was halfway over the Tasman sea before we got an in-flight drink.
- An entire Boeing 747 full of first and business class passengers being kicked out of the Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney (which is contracted as a departure lounge by the Thai Airways International) well in advance of the THAI flight boarding. Whatever the reason for that was, it shows a complete lack of regard for Air New Zealand’s own reputation.
These aren’t isolated examples. We’ve continued to fly Air New Zealand on occasion when schedule has required it (the reality is they offer the only non-stop flights on a number of routes to Auckland), and have always held out the hope that we might experience the service that some people rave about. Instead, in the last few months we’ve had:
- a staff travel taking our allocated seat in Business Premier (without asking) because he wanted to sit next to his wife.
- a rant from an Air New Zealand ground staff member while boarding a flight.
- a flat-out refusal to check us in at a check-in counter.
- an international gate at the airline’s hub in Auckland without a priority boarding lane.
We’ve also had a reader write to us this year about how they were pursued out of the Air New Zealand temporary lounge in Sydney by an Air New Zealand Supervisor trying to stop them using the elevator to go to the Singapore Airlines lounge by telling them it was closed (it was not).
The opportunity for Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand chairman Tony Carter is a distinguished New Zealand business executive. He formerly ran a supermarket chain (New Zealand’s largest retail organisation). In addition to chairing Air New Zealand, he is also Chairman of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, and a director of Fletcher Building and ANZ Bank New Zealand. These are roles with significant exposure to the importance of managing a business for the long term.
Now that Mr Carter has experienced Air New Zealand’s service for himself, hopefully, he understands the opportunity for the airline.
That opportunity is service: whether it be during normal operations, irregular operations; on the ground, or in the air. Air New Zealand have a mostly modern fleet and a strong brand awareness, which makes it well placed going forward. It will not be easy, but improving service is key to delivering a reputation to match the brand.