12 Aug 2020

Air NZ boss hopes disruption will not be 'lengthy and difficult'

From Checkpoint, 5:36 pm on 12 August 2020

Air New Zealand can absorb a short-term disruption to flights but if it becomes a lengthy ordeal it will need to take another look at its finances, its chief executive says. 

Greg Foran told Checkpoint it was difficult to predict how the new cases of community transmission of Covid-19 would impact on the airline. 

Asked if he expected more job losses in light of the airline needing to save another $150 million, he said it was too early to say. 

"Like any business, we don't plan for everything going right. So if this is a reasonably short-term event and we're back on our feet and operating with a few weeks then I think we're in a good position. 

"Should this extend into something that is quite lengthy and difficult and on a much larger scale, then clearly we'd need to go back and have a look at it and see how cash is flowing and all the other things." 

Air New Zealand has rolled out a mandatory mask-wearing policy for all flights leaving Auckland from today.

Public-facing staff and domestic cabin crew will now wear masks and gloves, and pilots will wear masks when interacting with customers or walking through terminals.

Foran said compliance had been "really good" and people were picking them up either when they were checking in, at the departure gate or on board and were happy to wear them. 

He said Air New Zealand's system is now better placed to help any customers who want to hold fares in credit following the move to alert level 3 in Auckland.

The call centre had received a flood of calls, emails and texts since the announcement about the new cases last night but the wait time by this evening was down to two minutes. 

While Air New Zealand had a lot of hiccups earlier in the year with flight refunds and revised schedules the system was now operating much more smoothly with 100 extra centre staff working, he said. 

"If they [passengers] had flights booked we'll make sure they get a credit for that and we've now got the tools in place for that to be handled much more efficiently. We're on top of that and feeling good about it." 

He said if the travel bubble to the Cook Islands was delayed the airline would be quite comfortable about it, but he felt sorry for people looking forward to an overseas holiday. 

Today had been busy as people headed in and out of Auckland as well as the need to organise masks and arrange social distancing, however, he was pleased with how the airline was coping. 

"We just want to reassure all our customers and all our staff we've got this one and the plan is coming into place." 

There was no suggestion extra flights were needed at present as some people weren't turning up for flights. 

"At this stage we're happy with the number of flights that we have operating. It's something we'll continue to review as the next few days unfold." 

The most recent outbreak has resulted in talks with the Ministry of Health which may mean all workers at Auckland International Airport being tested for Covid-19 and that would cover Air New Zealand employees, he said. 

Plenty of passenger-clad masks on flights 

Meanwhile, passengers on domestic flights appear to be heeding advice and wearing their masks.

An Air New Zealand passenger, Sam Phillips, travelled with his partner, Kerry Michaels, from Auckland to Wellington this afternoon. 

The flights were very well managed and everyone on board wore a mask, including staff, Phillips said, but passengers were subdued. 

"The flight was very quiet, but otherwise it was very calm and very well managed. Everyone was wearing masks. Air New Zealand was handing out masks to anyone who didn't have them getting on the plane. 

"The only real difference is they didn't serve any drinks."

An Air New Zealand aircraft parked at Auckland airport.

Passengers on at least one Air New Zealand flight were subdued, one traveller says.  Photo: 123RF

He said there wasn't social distancing between seats, but it appeared many people hadn't turned up for the flight.

At the airport, there were fewer seats in the food courts and all staff were wearing masks.