OPINION: Now here's a dangerous four-letter word.
It's loaded with implications, particularly for any corporate representative dealing with the public.
Misused, it can communicate that you are diminishing something, when you are simply trying to define it.
An Air New Zealand contact centre staffer reportedly told Christchurch mother Jackie McKenzie, who was trying to postpone flight tickets for a family holiday because she needed radiation treatment, that hers was not a sufficiently exceptional case because it was "only breast cancer".
Two issues arise here. And not in a cerebral spring-to-mind way. If anything, they arise from the stomach in a spasm of revulsion.
If that really was the phrase used then it was an appalling use of words. Breast cancer, especially when it is freshly diagnosed, surely looms large in anyone's life. It is a diagnosis laden with scare and menace.
Because what's at stake here is "only" this woman's death or survival, "only" her family's wellbeing and happiness, and perhaps "only" the small matter of whether not just the airline, but the wider world, gives a fat rat's about which way this health struggle plays out.
Quite apart from the sickening terminology is the question of whether the judgment being so brutally communicated is, in itself, reasonable.
It isn't. The distinction that the airline representative was struggling to communicate was that breast cancer is an ongoing condition rather than a "critical illness".
Granted, those within the travel industry have been pointing out that it is amazing the number of people who apply for compassionate consideration when they are caught in situations that could have been covered by booking a suitable ticket with appropriate travel insurance.
But that's a smugly compartmentalised approach.
Seriously, where's the compassion? Bear in mind that Jackie McKenzie could not reasonably have known of her need for radiation treatment when she booked the flights, and that she was asking only for a postponement, not a refund or free flights.
Air New Zealand has accepted the response she received from its contact centre was unsatisfactory and it's now offering a full refund or, if she wants, will continue to hold the funds towards a future fare, waiving any associated fees.
That is a targeted response to what is now a high-profile case. What's needed, however, is a wider reassurance about how other, similar situations will be handled, so people can have a realistic idea about what, in times of extremity, will or won't fly. So to speak.
Amid the furore that this case has kicked up, many passengers have come forward with accounts from the other side of the ledger - of the sort of service we would all want to have associated with the national airline.
Duly noted. But this instance is a striking example of fallibility, for all that.
The airline can at least console itself that the benchmark for ugly rebuffs must still be held by Jetstar, rejecting the transfer of a booking for a woman who had just found out her son had been the victim of a fatal shark attack at Muriwai Beach.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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