Stupid is as stupid does: Air New Zealand.

Stupid is as stupid does: Air New Zealand.

When a much travelled media friend said recently that Air New Zealand is well and truly outclassed by other competing airlines – Singapore Airlines, of course comes to mind, but he even mentioned Cathay Pacific as doing a much better job – I registered this just in passing. It’s been several years since I travelled overseas.

So a recent trip to Sydney on Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner was more like a bad dream. It wasn’t simply disappointing. The configuration of the plane in business class where a son and I travelled, for specific reason, was a shock. The seeming lack of intelligence which decided upon the placing of the seats was almost unbelievable.

Moreover, apparently other airlines which use the Dreamliner plane don’t use AIRNZ’s ridiculous configuration of the business/premium class cabin.

As one of those travellers who love to look to see where we are going…to watch the land unfold below and take in everything which gives us new horizons, I was incredulous to see the seating layout in this section of the plane. I’d hoped for a window seat to look down at it all.

And yes, my seat was by the window – but it was well turned away from the window so that essentially I and all others were travelling almost backwards – or at least facing so far in towards the middle of the cabin that the window was behind my right shoulder. Essentially I was travelling sideways with the side of the seat in front and the back of my own obstructing any possible view if I even twisted around to try to face the front and to look out.

No chance. The arrangement of this cabin was a basic herringbone with seats facing in, away from the window. The seats on the side of the aisles opposite, faced towards what should have been window seats. Nobody travelled facing forwards. And given that it was a herringbone configuration, all up the cabin, the privacy which so many value and prevents one being overlooked when sleeping was quite gone. Travellers virtually faced one another diagonally. This basically equated to less privacy then provided to economy class and economy upgrade, where passengers face forward. Unfortunately I couldn’t downgrade to economy premium, still allowing for more leg room, as all its places were taken.

I found the thinking behind preventing passengers facing forward or looking out the window simply simply incredible, and the cabin attendant to whom I expressed astonishment, and sheer disappointment said there had been quite a bit of criticism of the seating and there would possibly be a new configurations in future. Possibly? In future?

I am one of many who doesn’t like travelling backwards and can feel nauseous when this happens – as once on a train across France. Unlike the obliging Swiss, the perverse west to east French railway system (which also doesn’t believe in providing platform notices in English, the universal language – so I was grateful for what of the language I still retain )  simply reverses trains to go back the way they have come. I recall having to sit up sideways on the arm of my seat to turn to face forward to avoid becoming train sick.  As now, on the so called Dreamliner, knowing I would feel queasy very soon, I had to miss the lunch due, and to try to sleep instead.

Easier said than done. The arm rests on the Dreamliner are so far back one can’t actually rest one’s arms on them – as one of the cabin crew said she had also found. And although I could put my feet up on the square equivalent of a footstool, one couldn’t actually recline.  Unlike normal business class where flatbeds can be obtained without moving, on the Dreamliner apparently one has to get up and stand in the aisle while a flight attendant comes to turn the bed over – or whatever that requires. Not a plan designed by a mastermind, when one needs to keep one’s head still.

Moreover, given the layout, a man with a very loud voice coming to visit the passenger behind/beside me, and sitting on his  block  footstool, ended up booming into my ear when I tried to sleep. His head projected up over my seat site. After about 15 minutes when I asked him to speak more quietly as I was trying to sleep,  he was shocked – but a very large woman who had come to swell the numbers next door, was apparently affronted. So much for the chance to rest quietly.

Never mind, I was reassured, it’ll be a different plane with a different configuration on the return flight.  It wasn’t, to our disappointment and I looked with near anger at the prospect of another three hours in such a poorly designed premium cabin being offered by our flag-bearer airline. Not good enough – any more than the unevenness of the quality of attendant staff, particularly the grim looking elderly man, the cabin attendant sitting on the front seat facing passengers during takeoff and landing, who apparently couldn’t manage one pleasant expression. Nor did I see him doing anything at all useful during the whole flight. Other attendants were polite and helpful.

There are a lot of improvements Air New Zealand needs to make to its whole service which reflects badly on today’s management. Basic speech training for example, should be provided for all ground staff, including at Sydney airport, because so many of the announcements are gabbled too fast and are barely audible – which causes confusion. It’s quite simply almost impossible to work out what so many staff is saying – including some of the pilots. All staff need to be trained to talk slowly and clearly. Their speed-mumbling is inexcusable.

Air New Zealand’s domestic routes also need improvements made. Some cabin staff are excellent – but only some. The sheer professionalism and stylish look of cabin attendants is now largely gone – some looking overweight  and behaving over-casually.

The ramp which should help passengers off and on planes is still not automatically supplied and the steep plane steps are hazardous. Nor is there now, as was formerly the custom, a cabin crew member waiting outside at the bottom to help elderly passengers with a travel bag, or mothers with children and others needing a hand when disembarking.

On the flight north to Auckland which had been consistently delayed it took an unacceptable at least 15 minutes before disembarking was allowed – after the plane had landed and passengers were stuck in the aisles, having to stand for far too long. With far too long a wait before the ramp was brought around it was particularly stressful for passengers now running late and trying to link  with overseas flights. Moreover,  after I recounted this experience to a friend, she told me that passengers on her plane on a domestic flight to Auckland were forced to wait for 20 minutes,  cramped up uncomfortably while  standing in the aisles, and subjected to intermittent,  high-pitched whining which cabin crew couldn’t explain. Air New Zealand not only needs to communicate better, but to work far more professionally in bringing around the ramp for disembarking.

On the regional domestic flight I travelled on, return,  what seemed to be new seats were incredibly hard to sit on – tough,  unyielding material as if stretched over wood. The businessman sitting beside me said that it was pretty hard going, even for an hour And why is it apparently now more often the case that planes are sent the length of the country to regional airports which are known to be closed because of rain, fog or low ground cover – to then have to return all the way to Auckland because conditions have not improved – and were obviously not going to?

Our national airline, which could well remember that taxpayers had to bail it out some years ago,  has long been criticised for the high cost of its fares up and down the country. It’s so often commented that it is cheaper to fly to Australia than within the country. This is particularly so with its anti-family policy of ramping fares up at Christmas and holiday periods when families want to travel. How many families, for example, can afford to pay $2000 for a return trip for two adults and two children from Auckland to Nelson,  for example? Unfair is a phrase that springs to mind, although fairness isn’t a concept prioritised in business – nor can it very often be the case. But this antifamily anti-family policy of Air New Zealand is counter-productive. If children’s fares were provided at half price, more families would be able to travel to visit grandparents and others   – more goodwill generated.

A lot more thinking in this country should be going into what we provide for New Zealanders and overseas travellers, and the black, gloomy cave which Auckland’s  international terminal has been turned into is no asset – any more than the new Nelson Airport – no guessing what most depressing of all colours (or non-colours) it too, now, features.  Why the preponderance of black on our planes, our rooftops and houses? Looking down from these planes, what does it say about what has happened to this country – apart from the corporatisation and over-exposure of  our All Black teams in a policy of overkill which has meant so many gradually losing interest in this  national game – with even the haka now ridiculously over-hyped –  and too ubiquitous. Has the black copycatting been largely part of this?

The growing thinking is that we have become essentially a rather stupid country in regard to so many other ill-thought decisions made by management in our hierarchies – including our government, local councils, bureaucracies and businesses. In so many areas, this is  hard to discount.

Air NewZealand is a typical example of an organisation apparently affected by poor planning in the above areas. Yet others spring to mind where it could considerably improve the standards it is offering to the public. It should, and could, be doing much better

 

 

© Amy Brooke