air new zealand…

March 25th, 2008

So the Air Cheap Bastards We Don’t Pay Our Chinese Flight Crew Peanuts saga seems to have almost died a quiet death…. Yeah, except that this search led somebody to this blog, and, well, just look at that first page of results. So, yeah, Air NZ seems to have struck it lucky, what with recent events in southwestern China taking up all the news, but still, surely the news of their treatment of their Shanghai-based, Chinese crew is going to leak into the Chinese internet… and then…

Well, the saga has almost died a quiet death, but still, there were a couple of articles in the Herald today. The first reports that “Air New Zealand’s Shanghai manager has told his Chinese crew that their pay review will be given “top priority” and they will be given credit cards from this week to solve issues with their meal allowances.” Sounds good, right, but, let’s move on:

The second report says: “Some Air NZ Chinese stewardesses plan to reject the airline’s offer of credit cards for meals when they are in Auckland, because they say there are too many restrictions.” Uh oh, what’s going on here?

“They are putting so much restrictions to make it hard for us to use the credit card and make it impossible to spend the full allowance which is rightfully ours,” one stewardess said.

“We cannot have two main courses for our dinner, we can have only six apples for a three-day trip and we cannot buy any milk powder or honey – otherwise, the airline will deduct the money from our pay.”

Air NZ’s Shanghai manager Darrin Curtis explained the policy in an internal email to his crew, saying: “Six apples over a three-day layover is perfectly acceptable … but I would say 25 apples would be unreasonable. It would be very hard for someone to eat 1kg of honey during a short layover, (but) it would be reasonable to, say, eat 250g. The policy is all about what is reasonable … in terms of the type of purchases you make and the quantity.”

Well, allow me to leap to a ridiculous conclusion based on the tiny little scraps of information quoted above: Sounds like Air New Zealand is trying to stop its Chinese crew from using company credit cards to either buy gifts for the family or do a little under-the-table trade on the side. But I mustn’t speculate too much. Indeed, a little further down the page we find this:

Air NZ’s public affairs general manager Mike Tod said paying expenses in cash to crew was a “historical practice” which the airline decided not to perpetuate when setting up the Shanghai base.


Commenting on the airline’s Shanghai manager’s email to the crew, Mr Tod said it was an attempt from him to demonstrate what might be reasonable and unreasonable practice when claiming expenses.

Well, sounds all perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? I dunno, there’s too much not reported, too many details missing, too much room for speculation. I have to say that my most reasonable guess is that there’s a huge cross-cultural miscommunication getting in between the two sides here. Still, Air NZ should’ve made sure right from the get-go that:

  • It’s China-based crew would be paid reasonably
  • It could handle the necessary cross-cultural communication effectively without any unnecessary misunderstandings arising.

I see no evidence yet that Air NZ fulfilled either of those two conditions.

2 Responses to “air new zealand…”

  1. Micah Sittig Says:

    The per-item limit sounds less like dropping the ball on cross-cultural communication and more like acting on latent stereotypes, the stereotype that you give the Chinese an inch and they take a mile. I think it’s not so much a cultural issue as a business issue you don’t spend wildly when the company is footing the bill, and a neutral “abusing the company CC will result in that privilege being withdrawn” would have all that was necessary.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Micah, you’re absolutely right and that was my first assumption. I decided that I would try and be charitable- after all, abuse of company credit cards is not limited to China, and Chinese people are perfectly capable of understanding the bounds of acceptable behaviour. But yes, I was going to include a speculation or two about the latent stereotypes you refer to, but decided in the interests of fairness and under the sheer weight of unanswered, and apparently unasked, questions to give Air NZ the benefit of the doubt. For now, anyways.