Last week, I had an unprecedented travel experience, and not in a good way. See my letter to the airline below.
Dear Air New Zealand,
My name is Erin and I am one of your frequent travellers. On average, I travel with you guys about once a month, sometimes even more. Needless to say, I am part of the airpoints programme!
I have travelled with many other airlines – Virgin, Qantas, Emirates, Cathay, South African – just to name a few, but none compare to the service offered by Air New Zealand.
You see, as a wheelchair user, I have a few additional requirements. But unlike other airlines, Air New Zealand makes it super easy to fly. I can book online like every other passenger. I can fly independently like every other passenger. And, most importantly, I know I will get the assistance I need, not only to get on and off the plane, but all the way from checkin the desk to my final destination.
What’s more, the service from Air New Zealand staff is by in large, markedly better; more friendly, less rushed, more human. And fellow passengers are usually friendly, too.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I had an unprecedented unpleasant reaction from a fellow passenger last week flying from Wellington to Queenstown. As usual, I boarded first and was seated on the aisle. A passenger and his wife came through and asked that I get up so they could get to their seats next to mine. I explained I could not stand and asked if they minded climbing past me. It’s usual to get a somewhat perplexed reaction in this situation, in which case I offer to shuffle to the window to make it easier for people. This time, however, I did not have a chance.
“What? You can’t stand? How did you even get on the plane?” He said abrasively.
I tried to explain how aisle chairs worked and was about to suggest I move to the window when he turned to the closest cabin crew member and said repeatedly, and rather loudly, that he “did not want a disabled passenger in the way of the exit” and that he refused to sit with me in the way. Other passengers were looking, clearly uncomfortable with the situation.
The cabin crew, rightly, asked him to step to the side while other passengers boarded. I noticed one of them talking to him, but couldn’t hear what was being said. At this point I didn’t want to sit next to such rude people. Eventually, a crew member came over and apologised for his behaviour. She said the plane was full, but that they would try to sort something out. I then offered to move to the window to make things easier for the crew. She thanked me for my understanding and on landing, the crew apologised again, saying none of them had experienced such an incident.
I appreciated their apologies and the difficulty the crew were in given the plane was full. However, not every passenger is as able to move seats as I am, nor should they have to. I would therefore like to ask that you use this situation as an example to all your staff as to what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. I ask that you use it as a reminder to make it very clear to all passengers that every one of their fellow passengers, irrespective of disability, age, or ethnicity, are deserving of respect and have an equal right to travel.
As New Zealand’s national carrier, you have an important role in showing passengers that making someone feel like nothing more than an object in the way and being rude to get what they want is not the New Zealand way.
I have high hopes that you will embrace my requests and continue to offer a great Kiwi service. I very much look forward to flying with Air New Zealand again soon.