Air NZ's support for rainbow community reached new heights under Christopher Luxon's watch

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
New National leader Christopher Luxon sits down with Stuff political editor Luke Malpass to outline his plan for National.

ANALYSIS: Shortly after Christopher Luxon was elected leader of the Opposition a rumour that had been swirling for years resurfaced on social media.

The rumour goes: During Luxon’s time in charge at Air New Zealand he axed the popular Mardi Gras “pink flights” because it didn’t align with his Christian views.

Much has been said about Luxon’s Christian faith, but he says it has been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively”.

The pink flights rumour is case in point because, in reality, Air New Zealand made huge progress to promote diversity and support transgender and gay staff under Luxon’s leadership.

READ MORE:
* Christopher Luxon's property gains soar as National promises to tackle housing crisis
* Former Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon showed 'enormous' intellectual capability but rarely met with 'ordinary workers'
* Son of former Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon joins airline as cabin crew

Air New Zealand first launched its one-off Mardi Gras pink flights in 2007, when Rob Fyfe was chief executive.

The flights, which sold out months in advance, operated for the next four years, until March 2011.

Air New Zealand made huge inroads in diversity and inclusion under chief executive Christopher Luxon.
JOHN ANTHONY/STUFF
Air New Zealand made huge inroads in diversity and inclusion under chief executive Christopher Luxon.

Luxon joined the airline in May 2011 as international airline group general manager and took over as chief executive in December 2012.

He left the airline in September 2019 and two months later Air New Zealand announced a return of the Mardi Gras flights. The flight went ahead, flying to the Sydney Mardi Gras 2020 festival in February last year.

A spokesman for Luxon said he did not make any decisions to end the Mardi Gras flights.

Luxon was a big supporter of the LGBTQI community, he said.

“Christopher is very proud of Air New Zealand’s record during his time of supporting greater diversity in general and the rainbow community specifically,” the spokesman said.

An unnamed source with knowledge of the situation said the decision to stop the pink flights was an operational one, and such a decision would not have gone all the way to the chief executive.

Craig Featherby, head of the Flight Attendants Association, said he had not heard anything to suggest Luxon made an executive decision to axe the flights.

Featherby, who is gay, worked as a Boeing 787-9 in-flight service manager while Luxon was chief executive.

Featherby said the handful of times he met Luxon at Air New Zealand he always came across as accepting of all people.

“I certainly never felt uncomfortable under his reign,” Featherby said.

Featherby said Air New Zealand underwent a lot of operational change during Luxon’s time leading the airline, and flight cancellations were exacerbated by the Rolls-Royce engine issues on the airline’s 787-9 Dreamliner over several years.

Air New Zealand is a long-term supporter of the annual Auckland Pride Parade and has featured stalls at Auckland’s Big Gay Out.
Supplied
Air New Zealand is a long-term supporter of the annual Auckland Pride Parade and has featured stalls at Auckland’s Big Gay Out.

While the Mardi Gras flights did not happen under Luxon’s watch Air New Zealand made significant progress in celebrating and embracing the queer community in other ways.

In 2013 it launched a diversity and inclusion strategy to support sub-communities within its workforce to feel able to come to work, be accepted and thrive.

A pride network was established designed to support staff of all sexual orientations.

The network successfully advocated to get gender neutral bathrooms installed at Air New Zealand , and worked with the airline’s digital staff to create ways for staff to identify as gender neutral in its HR systems.

Air New Zealand is also a long-term supporter of the annual Auckland Pride Parade and has featured stalls at Auckland’s Big Gay Out.

Also in 2013 Air New Zealand celebrated New Zealand legalising same sex marriage by running a “love is in the air” competition where the winning couple got the chance to have a same-sex marriage at 30,000 feet on a flight between Queenstown and Auckland.

In February 2019 Air New Zealand officially received the Rainbow Tick certification, which is awarded to organisations that have gone through a robust set of competency checks across all areas of the business and are deemed a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for people of diverse gender identity and sexual orientations.