Friday, August 7, 2015

Yes, Bob Jones, I've had enough of airlines treating us like cattle, too.

A few months ago, the well-known New Zealand businessman, raconteur and boxing pundit, Bob Jones, was ejected from an Air New Zealand flight on the grounds that he refused to respond to a stewardess who wanted to know whether he was familiar with the operation of an emergency exit next to which he was sitting. Bob used to be best known for his brief political foray in the mid-1980s when he formed The New Zealand Party with the express intention of unseating the then prime minister, Rob Muldoon, whose politics and style of rule had come to more closely resemble that of Josef Stalin rather than the head of government in a Westminster democracy. Bob and his fledgling party attracted around 12% of the votes in the 1984 election, enough to unseat Muldoon and his cronies and to usher in the neo-liberal Labour Party that slashed taxes, sold off state assets, closed down unnecessary government agencies and led a most remarkable turn-around in New Zealand's economic fortunes from which the country still benefits today. I worked on that campaign with Bob Jones when I was a university student and remember him as always pleasant, courteous and good-humoured.

Bob Jones was in the news again this week because he has responded to his defenestration from that Air New Zealand flight in the best possible way - by buying his own executive jet. Actually, despite reports to the contrary, it is not the first time Bob has had his own executive jet - I recall his public investment company owned one during the height of the sharemarket boom that followed the defeat of the Muldoon regime. But his latest acquisition was a perfectly symbolic raised middle finger to New Zealand's national airline.

I've been reasonably successful financially in my career but not enough (yet) to buy my own executive jet. I most definitely would if I could because the treatment of commercial airline passengers all around the world is an absolute disgrace. Bob Jones is right to compare Air New Zealand unfavourably to Soviet-era airlines. As bad as Aeroflot once was (and it's safety record was so bad travel agents used to call it 'Aero-flop' in recognition of the propensity of its aircraft to crash), it at least operated in an era when airlines understood that good customer service didn't include bullying. Today, most airlines and airports treat their customers like cattle and I think it is only a matter of time before their staff resort to electric cattle prods to achieve their aims. Of course, they are aided by government security officials who treat all passengers, no matter how law-abiding, like convicted criminals.

The only aspect of all this with which I disagree with Bob Jones is that Air New Zealand is especially bad. Actually, all airlines in this part of the world are far ahead of those in the United States as anyone who has recently flown domestically there will tell you. Not only are U.S. airport security procedures far more intrusive (and literally bodily-intrusive in many cases) than ours, they have enormous structural issues due to the hub-and-spoke nature of their transit routes, a practice of always overbooking flights (which is frankly fraudulent) and a national psych that is anti-service - all of which results in an industry that regards passengers as something less valuable than insentient freight.

The only area in which Air New Zealand is worse than U.S. airlines is in its appalling, infantile safety videos (see example here). I guess they are supposed to be amusing but I find such videos only to be insulting and cringe-inducing, especially after the twentieth viewing. If they have to turn safety videos into childrens' fantasy tales in order to get people to watch them, what chance is there that anyone will have the maturity and presence of mind to actually follow the instructions during an emergency? It is all just part of the general infantilisation of Western culture that seems to be done to excess in this country.

Hmmm, I wonder how much that new jet costs?


Lindsay Mitchell said...

I note he chose America to purchase it from. (I'll be interested to see whether he can retain the US registration. It was allowed with imported light aircraft into the UK in the mid 80s.)

Having left the UK bound for NZ I stopped off in Chicago to build some hours. It cost US$24-27 an hour to hire a C152 versus around $100 pounds in the UK. Similarly, planes were very inexpensive to purchase. I am too out of touch now to put it in context but it looks like Bob got a real bargain.....especially when you look at the Auckland housing market. I'd buy the plane and live in it!

Barry said...

I think Air NZ's safety videos are insultingly infantile ugly and stupid.

You'd have to wonder whether people who produce this garbage are capable of operating aircraft!