Editorial: Air NZ makes a moko mistake

Last updated 05:00 31/05/2013

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Love is enough, though the world be awaning. William Morris, English poet and artist (1834-1896).

What makes New Zealand so wonderful is that it is unique - but that uniqueness occasionally exposes a weakness.

Take the case this week of wannabe air hostess Claire Nathan, who, according to Air New Zealand, has a ta moko on her arm which might frighten or intimidate the jet set.

Her interview for a flight attendant's job at Air New Zealand was cut short and she was told it was company policy that staff had no visible tattoos.

The offending tattoo, it should be noted, was on her forearm, and would not be visible if she wore long sleeves.

It is no surprise to learn, in the wake of publicity over the incident, that Air New Zealand is reviewing its policy. It has been an organisation not lacking in common sense, and one which has consistently topped one poll as the country's most attractive employer. And its bosses will no doubt understand the logic of the comments of tattooed MP Tau Henare, who suggested Air NZ was "cutting off its nose to spite its face".

"It's a beautiful piece of art that she has on her forearm and I don't think that any tourist would go scurrying for shelter if they saw her moko," the MP argued.

The odd - and we use the word deliberately - visiting Danish MP might be intimidated at the site of a Maori tattoo but we doubt it would put off any other frequent flyer.

In this case we take the charitable view that the letter of the law has been applied too rigidly and the company's reaction to the furore has also looked stilted, all the more so because it boasts that it "proudly celebrated New Zealand culture in its branding". Its branding, but not, it would seem, anyone else's.

Which is strange, because Air NZ has no problem with tattooed people being employed to tell the world how good the company is. Claire Nelson's tattoos are a pin prick compared to the over-the-shoulder efforts of All Black, Kiwi and boxer Sonny Bill Williams, who has featured in an Air New Zealand campaign. Gin Wigmore's arms are veritable works of art, yet Air NZ had no issues with her inking a contract to provide music for a safety video. The video, which had staff including the then chief executive Rob Fyfe appearing in body paint, was innovative. The treatment of Ms Nelson has been anything but.

The company is quite right to set parameters on tattoos. Some are offensive, others inappropriate, many are both. Even Maori party co-leader Pita Sharples acknowledges customers could be intimidated by a flight attendant with a full face moko. But in this case, the fact Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Shearer agree on the issue should give Air NZ a pretty strong steer that they have made a bad call.

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The airline notes it is not alone in rejecting tattooed candidates. It points out that other leading airlines, including Emirates, Etihad, British Airways and Delta, do the same. But they are not New Zealand airlines. And that brings us back to the start. What makes New Zealand wonderful is that it is unique - but that uniqueness occasionally exposes a weakness.

- Taranaki Daily News

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