Brian Edwards Media

Lunacy and Appalling PR from Air New Zealand

Lee Shelton - TVNZ

Lee Shelton - TVNZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to know how not to handle a complaint to Fair Go, you could scarcely do better than check out the extraordinary story of Lee Shelton’s attempts to get Air New Zealand to make a minor change to his flight arrangements for a return trip to China.

Lee had booked a domestic Air New Zealand flight from Wellington to Auckland where he would join an international Air New Zealand flight to Beijing. But some time after booking the flights he changed his job and moved to Auckland. So he phoned Air New Zealand to cancel the Wellington-Auckland leg and tell them he would be checking in for the international flight at Auckland. Very reasonable.

Air New Zealand didn’t think so. Lee would have to pay a penalty for making the change to his travel arrangements. He was then offered three options:

1. He could cancel and rebook the entire journey for a fee of $500

2. He could buy a new one-way ticket to Wellington and catch the original flight back to Auckland.

Lee considered both options insane and said he would just forget the Wellington-Auckland leg and check in for the international flight, on which he was already booked, at Auckland. Extremely reasonable.

Air New Zealand didn’t think so. If he didn’t turn up for the Wellington flight, they told him, his entire journey would be cancelled. Which brought them to  the last option:

3. Lee could pay $50 to change his ticket  – or stay home.

Lee paid the $50. If he’d been offered that option in the first place he’d have taken it and the whole sorry tale would never have appeared on Fair Go.

But Lee did go to Fair Go with this extraordinary story of corporate insanity, not to mention obstructiveness by the national carrier. And Fair Go went to Air New Zealand.  What Air New Zealand should have done was recognise the preposterous nature of the options which Lee had been given, apologised and offered him some form of compensation, if only his $50 back. But Air New Zealand didn’t think so.  

The airline’s GM Direct Sales, Leanne Langridge came armed with her “key messages” – these were the airline’s “standard conditions”: they were “standard industry practice”: the best scenario was to offer customers a choice; “options are options” and the best option in Lee’s case was to pay the $50 administration fee.

Then why not offer that option to Lee at the outset, asked Fair Go. And the answer to that question? To demonstrate to the customer that the $50 option was the cheapest and easiest way to go!

That, Fair Go concluded, was outrageous and made Air New Zealand seem like a bit of a bully.

Too right! Not to mention: absolutely no recognition of the ludicrous nature of the propositions that were put to Lee; the complete lack of any apology; and the absence of  redress of any sort. Just a series of PR platitudes that were as absurd as the behaviour the pretty, smiling lady was supposed to be there to defend.  

The CEO of Air New Zealand, Rob Fyfe, is the most impressive media communicator  I have seen anywhere in the world.  He may need to pass on some of those skills to his staff.

Oh, and well done Fair Go.

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9 Comments:

  1. I watched the program an was absolutely floored by Leanne langridge’s wooden performance.
    What the hell is wrong with Air NZ, they only seem to want to make more money and inconvenience more customers and they do it so easily.
    Flexibility is obviously not a word that is in their vocabulary. Amazing.

  2. I found it hard to believe that Air NZ chose to respond to this situation in such an incompetent manner. Taking a hard stance, without even acknowledging their customer’s experience, speaks volumes about Air NZ’s values and culture.
    Mind you, I also felt that Leanne Langridge was very uncomfortable defending the indefensible. Little wonder that it produced one of the most unnatural interview performances I’ve seen in a long time; it was as if she was testifying in court, having been thoroughly prepped by her defense lawyers. Overall I was left with the distinct impression that Air NZ are operating within a win:lose paradigm of interaction … I think that’s the polite name for a bully.

    • I found it hard to believe that Air NZ chose to respond to this situation in such an incompetent manner.

      You may well have a point. She was probably given a Q & A briefing by the PR department along with a list of “key messages”. One of our biggest challenges on training sessions is to undo the harm done by external or internal PR and Communications people who promote these “key messages” as essential preparation for any interview. So the interviewee approaches the interview like an actor with set lines which he/she has to speak. All very well if the other actor in the scene – the interviewer – delivers the cues that will allow the interviewee to speak his/her lines. That almost never happens. This is really appalling advice and is virtually universal in the PR/Communications industry. “Messages” have no place in an interview. They’re transparent and the average listener/viewer can spot them in an instant. A good interview should be a dialogue between interviewer and interviewee. Prospective interviewee should marshall their arguments not rehearse their answers. That way you’re not going to get caught out. It’s sensible to have considered which important points you want/need to make. But that is a very different matter from preparing a set of messages.

  3. When I heard Leanne Langridge I thought ANZ had sent some low level airhead along to trot out the party line. I have to confess that I also noticed she was blonde, which I felt had something to do with her performance. I was amazed to learn that she was in a managerial position. I assume she has a MBA which tells you everything. A chimpanzee from Akl zoo could do beter.

    I thought the Fair Go inteviewer let her off very lightly. I think the $50 fee was outrageous considering he had already paid the fare from Wn to Akl. What aboutsecurity/airport surcharges; these should have been refunded.

    And suppose the passenger had adopted ANZ’s lunatic idea of getting a flight down to Wn to come back again; what would have happened when he had failed to show for the Wn leg on his return from Beijing? Presumably ANZ would have gone into meltdown.

    ANZ was vey quick to get stuck into IBM following the recent computer failure. It wants to do some soul searching and the first thing is that Rob Fyffe should tell call centre operators and Leanne Langridge get an injection of the common sense gene.

    • And suppose the passenger had adopted ANZ’s lunatic idea of getting a flight down to Wn to come back again; what would have happened when he had failed to show for the Wn leg on his return from Beijing? Presumably ANZ would have gone into meltdown.

      Yeah, hadn’t thought about the Auckland-Wellington return leg. No doubt they’d have suggested he continue on to Wellington then get a return fare on the next flight back to Auckland.

      I don’t think the interviewer needed to press it any further. We could all see that Air New Zealand’s response was as preposterous as their original set of options.

  4. PS It is no defence of LL to say she had been ‘coached’ by the PR department.

    I would normally assume anyone rising to GM level had a mind of her own and could tell the PR people where to get off. Either that or she could just have thought on her feet.

    • PS It is no defence of LL to say she had been ‘coached’ by the PR department.

      It wasn’t intended as a defence. I can tell you, however, that from our experience, large corporations often have quite inflexible rules about what even quite high level employees may and may not say. The Communications and PR departments are often surprisingly powerful. Ms Langridge may not have been able to make a concession let alone offer an apology.

  5. “…large corporations often have quite inflexible rules about what even quite high level employees may and may not say. The Communications and PR departments are often surprisingly powerful.”

    I’ll bet the PR department does not tell Rob Fyfe what to say. Unless Rob Fyfe wants to undo all the good work he has done over the last two years he should be on the phone to his customer with a grovelling apology. Then he should visit his PR department and start handing out DCM notices.

  6. As a corporation we make anywhere from 4-12 flights per week between Wellington and Auckland (which is steadily increasing), all of which now go to their competition, little do they realise that this is a stance I will maintain for every travel decision ever made, and a decision I influence everywhere I work forever.

    Hundereds of thousands if not millions of dollars they will never get.

    I rest my case on customer service.