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Air New Zealand Flight Attendant Loses Employment Case Over Having Staff Travel Privileges Revoked After Passenger Complaint

Air New Zealand Flight Attendant Loses Employment Case Over Having Staff Travel Privileges Revoked After Passenger Complaint

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An Air New Zealand flight attendant has lost a case she brought before the Employment Relations Authority after the airline revoked her staff travel privileges following serious allegations made by a passenger on a flight from Houston to New Zealand. The tribunal ruled that Leigh Dunn, a five year veteran of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner cabin crew team, had not been disadvantaged by unjustified actions made by the airline.

The incident occurred last March when Dunn was travelling as a passenger using her staff travel benefits from Houston to Auckland following a period of sick leave and awaiting a return to flying by completing Emergency Procedures refresher training. At the time, she was taking prescription medication and had drunk alcohol before and during the near 14-hour flight.

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Photo Credit: Air New Zealand

A passenger sat beside her in the Premium Economy section recognised she might be an Air New Zealand flight attendant because she was using her airline-branded cabin bag. The passenger asked whether she worked for the airline to which Dunn confirmed she did. Air New Zealand’s staff travel policy prohibits employees from using branded luggage or even confirming they are staff when making using of their concessions.

During the flight, the same passenger made a complaint against Dunn involving serious allegations that were not elaborated upon during the hearing. Cabin crew working the flight tried to deal with the incident immediately and ended up moving Dunn to the back of the aircraft for the remainder of the flight.

The nature of the complaint, however, was so serious that police were called to meet the plane on arrival and both Dunn and the passenger were interviewed by officers. While no further action was taken by the police, Air New Zealand opened a formal investigation and she was returned to sick leave.

During the investigation, it was established that the passenger complaint was unsubstantiated but the cabin crew manager still had concerns about Dunn’s behaviour. According to Air New Zealand’s chief medical officer, the medication Dunn was taking “very likely played a significant role in the event”.

Dunn would normally take just one dose of medication per day but ended up taking two does within 24-hours before her flight to account for the flight time and change of timezones. It was likely, the chief medical officer concluded, that the change in timings for taking the medication increased Dunn’s susceptibility to the effects of small amounts of alcohol and could have caused out of character behaviour.

Dunn was issued with a letter of expectations from her employer and had her staff travel privileges revoked for six months following a number of meetings to discuss the incident and likely sanctions. In addition, her annual bonus was substantially lower than what she originally thought it might be.

Claims against Air New Zealand for breach of trust were, however, rejected by the tribunal who concluded Dunn had actually accepted the six-month staff travel ban following a first proposal from the airline to suspend the privileges for up to a year. Air New Zealand also successfully argued that Dunn’s annual bonus was lower than what she had been expecting because she had been on sick leave for a considerable amount of time.

Costs in the judgement have been reserved in the hope that the two parties can come to an agreement.

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