Air New Zealand: Kiwi when convenient

I’ve been really enjoying watching Maori Television’s Native Affairs news programme recently. Mihingarangi Forbes has been on fire ever since she was fortunate enough to land the most ridiculous interviewee of all time, Alasdair "my wife says I’m not a sexist dinosaur" Thompson, and now she’s right at home taking the nation to task on affairs Maori, indigenous, cultural. I love it.

I am voting for her as the new mother of the nation.

Actually, the rest of the show is hot too. The documentary segments are the best I’ve seen on New Zealand tele in forever, the content is fresh, engaging and important and I am so pleased to see publicly funded broadcasting thriving on at least some screens somewhere.

Tonight Native Affairs interviewed an aspiring air hostess whose application to national airline Air New Zealand was rejected on the basis of her having a visible ta moko, or traditional tattoo. Their policy does not distinguish ta moko, as this woman had on her arm, from tattoos, banning any potential cabin crew whose tattoos would be visible while wearing the Air New Zealand uniform.

This is despite the airline using a distinctly Maori motif in its livery since the 1970s and various Maori imagery in advertising campaigns.

It seems ta moko patterns are acceptable for use on the cabin crew’s uniforms but not on their skin where they traditionally belong.

Even the buttons on the latest uniform feature the koru motif.

Air New Zealand, which was last year named the world’s top airline for the second time, has long worked its cultural charms to impress its customers, both domestically and internationally. Tonight the Native Affairs producers took great pleasure in rummaging through the archives to expose the airline’s most memorable 'Maori moments', none of which had aged gracefully.

The koru tail-wagging airline, which declined an appearance on the programme, said in a statement that “some international travellers think tattoos are intimidating and frightening”.

It seems that Air New Zealand has forgotten its roots.

My own experience speaking to Danish school children about New Zealand culture last year showed me that people may be surprised to learn that facial moko is not only legal, but sacred. I’ve found most people I meet along the way are open to cultural differences and the ones who aren’t are not really the kind of people we like to welcome to New Zealand anyway.

(As an aside, if Marie Krarup had been welcomed on to an Air New Zealand flight by a woman with a moko, wouldn’t she just have turned around and stayed at home? This could have saved everyone a lot of hassle and embarrassment).

For many incoming passengers, their Air New Zealand flight is the first Kiwi experience they will have. Why not take the opportunity to make this both a world-class experience and a genuinely cultural one?