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Air NZ backs down over its $1500 sandwich

Deborah Hill Cone

Friday 14th November 2003

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Less than two weeks after the introduction of its new transtasman Express service, Air New Zealand has been forced to back down over some key cost-cutting aspects of the new format.

Business travellers have been incensed at service under the new regime, questioning the value for money in getting served a sandwich in a cardboard box after paying $1500 for a business class seat to Australia.

One chief executive told The National Business Review he travelled on one of the first flights under the new regime and described an atmosphere of revolt among the passengers in the business class cabin over the bargain basement style service.

Cabin crew reported they had received 15 complaints from business travellers on a single flight, and House of Travel commercial director Tony Moffatt said they received complaints from their business customers about the food and its presentation. "I think people's perception of what value for money is may well differ from that of the airline," Moffatt said.

The new cheaper service was introduced less than two weeks ago with cuts of between 25% and 45% in fares in both business class and economy. But despite the cheaper fares, business class passengers felt their in-flight service was barely distinguishable from that served in economy ­ except for getting a better class of wine.

Air New Zealand general manager public affairs and government relationships Glen Sowry said althiugh economy class passengers had been overwhelmingly positive about the new format, the airline had had "mixed feedback" on the new service from business class passengers, with most complaints mentioning the presentation of the food. Sowry said the airline had listened to the feedback and from today was reintroducing what is known in the trade as "rotables" which meant proper cutlery, crockery and glassware rather than disposable. The extra cost of this, which was "significant," would be absorbed by the airline.

"We are accepting we have not met [customers] expectations ... we have heard them and made changes" Mr Sowry said.

The food itself would not change, however. Another backdown from Air New Zealand was on flights to Perth, where the full in-flight food service was being restored as the airline had found the flight, at eight hours, was essentially a long- haul service.

House of Travel's Moffatt said Air New Zealand should get credit for listening and acting on customer feedback but he still questioned whether business class passengers were getting value for money.

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