Air New Zealand Cuts Down 6-Month Flight Schedule Due To Staff Sickness

With Air New Zealand recording its highest rates of employee sick leave in over a decade and experiencing a series of disruptive last-minute flight cancelations, the airline is proactively trimming its timetables over the next six months. Air New Zealand is cutting its seat capacity by 1.5%. The decision is expected to impact approximately 100,000 passengers over the period.

Airline CEO says proactive flight cancellations are operational insurance

Citing bad weather and sickness, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran says the last month or two has been challenging, with last-minute flight cancelations and delays affecting around 56,000 people.Since becoming CEO over two years ago, Mr Foran says he’s learned to be ready for what he calls “the next sideswipe.”

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The CEO says it is hard to predict what will happen next with COVID-19 and sickness rates but says by “tweaking the system,” he’s more confident the spate of last-minute cancelations that plagued Air New Zealand during the last school holiday period won ‘t happen again.

“We really want to avoid a situation, particularly around Christmas time, of not being able to get people where they need to get to,” Mr Foran told Radio New Zealand on Thursday, adding that proactively canceling flights in advance will also take some pressure off frontline employees.This is a very small minority of flights we are talking about. Usually, we are moving circa 500 domestic flights a day, and we’re talking here about (cancelling) ten.”


Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. Photo: Air New Zealand

Refunds for some, flight transfers for most

Air New Zealand’s most recent published passenger numbers cover June, when the airline flew 1.097 million people. Eighty percent of those passengers flew on Air New Zealand domestic flights. In June 2019, the airline carried 1.576 million passengers.

“Most customers who experience a flight change will be transferred to another flight on the same day for domestic travel, and for international travel, on the same day or a day either side of their original booking. Where customers cannot be accommodated within these timeframes, they may change their booking online, opt into credit, or request a refund,” reads an Air New Zealand statement. “Those customers with changes will start to see them from this week and will be automatically transferred to another flight. Those with further onward connections may also be disrupted, and we will work through these directly with impacted customers.”


Air New Zealand’s CEO says the current fleet is stretched to capacity. Photo: Getty Images

Air New Zealand eyes leasing a crewed widebody plane over the summer

Mr Foran says reducing the number of flights means the airline will be able to have crews on standby to cover illness, which has not been possible lately.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to minimize disruption and provide surety for our customers over the next six months. We have rehired or brought on more than 2,000 pilots, airport staff, cabin crew, contact center, and engineers, and we’ re going as fast as we can with recruitment and training.”

Mr Foran let slip plans to lease a crewed widebody jet over the upcoming Southern Hemisphere summer season. The airline is currently busy bringing its Boeing 777-300ERs out of storage, with two already in the air and the remaining five anticipated to rejoin the fleet by 2023. Thirteen of Air New Zealand’s 14 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners are working, with one (ZK-NZE) flagged as parked.


“At the moment, we’re stretched to capacity, and making sure our customers are able to travel is our top priority. The lease of an additional crewed aircraft may help us achieve that,” advises Mr Foran.

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