“My mother was treated unfairly and to my understanding it was rude and racist.” Ilaisaane Mahe Manoa | Facebook

Poly social media was busy tonight, but not for reasons to celebrate.

A partially blind Tongan mother with a business class ticket on Air NZ was reportedly questioned about her ticket status and her reasons for standing in the premium check-in area by an Air NZ staff member. The heated exchange left the woman in tears at Auckland airport. Her daughter who was with her mother at the time, and who corrected the employee posted their humiliating experience on social media. The post likes are climbing rapidly to 20,000 with close to 3000 shares of the post.

Which begs the question. Why does class discrimination still exist in 2017?

It’s bad enough that classism is even a thing, and airlines are the most visible places to see this in action. Greed, money and status only serves to divide society. You pay more. You get more. You board the plane first. You have better food. More leg space. Better service and free champagne while those in economy are squished at the back like sardines.

So when one Polynesian women has this type of privileged ticket, she has to then face the task of convincing airline staff that this pass is hers. Colonial mindsets like the one this Air NZ employee demonstrated are a problem in what is supposed to be modern-day progressive New Zealand.

Last month in America, two women, one white and one black were travelling together with first class tickets on an American Airlines flight.

Once issued with their boarding passes, the black passenger who holds frequent flyer status was told her first class seat was reassigned as there weren’t any more first class seats available. Meanwhile the Palagi customer who holds no status with the airline was able to fly first class.

The black passenger who questioned the seating allocation, says she was constantly ignored by flight attendants but when her Palagi friend asked the same questions, the attendants responded differently giving her thorough answers.

Palagi friend tweets later on saying that the whole reason she was flying first class was because the tickets were upgraded by her black friend.

The women were told that there was no more room in first class but when black passenger checked the first class area, she says there was plenty of seats. They both ignored the flight attendants instructions and sat together only to be unpleasantly grilled further by the flight attendants.

Tonight’s post prompted fellow Polynesians to bring up their own similar experiences with Air NZ.

I personally don’t fly Air NZ because I don’t think it is value for money and because of an unpleasant experience I had years back, (before Air NZ  bought in those self-service stands that clearly yell out ‘We’re too lazy to serve you, so do it yourself’).

My male cousin had arrived in Auckland on a delayed domestic flight from Wellington, which subsequently made him late for his international flight.

When we arrived to check in at the counter, the female staff were standing around casually, laughing out loud. It was clear we had inconvenienced them by turning up flustered. One lady jumped off the table she was unprofessionally sitting on and demanded to know why we were late.

When we told her why, it appeared our reasoning just wasn’t good enough for her and instead of serving us, she proceeded to complain out loud for five minutes about our ‘tardiness’ before realizing that her rants were not helping the situation. She could have issued my cousin his boarding pass in those five minutes she had just wasted.

After I asked her for her name and told her to hurry up and do her job before I threaten to complain to senior management, she finally checked my cousin in – but not without a scowl on her face.  None of her colleagues bothered to jump in and assist us either. Rather, they were enjoying the war of words that unfolded in front of them and they kept staring at me like I was some alien.


Surely, considering the nature of their jobs, I expected that they dealt with ongoing flight delays and unintentionally late customers all the time. Was our lateness really that new to them?  And do they treat customers that way all the time? What if we were white, would there have been a different outcome? She managed to check him in finally which means he wasn’t late after all – he just arrived more towards the closing time of check in but I guess it was just late to HER.

Thank God my cousin had big-mouth me there with him else he probably wouldn’t have been on that flight!

Just like the American women, I complained too. Unfortunately, the complaints process really is only that – a process. The response from the company is never genuine and the particular employee gets to keep their job in the end. Who knows, they probably weren’t spoken to at all.  What follows is the norm:  A sorry not sorry apology from the airline. And a conclusion that the matter was apparently investigated but that they found no evidence of discrimination. In other words, stop overreacting.


These days I am more inclined to fly airlines like Qantas, Emirates, Lan Chile, China Air whose prices are just as competitive if not cheaper. And the 30kgs (and food!) is included. Their traditional over-the-counter service really does add to the customer experience and hey maybe that’s the way to minimise the class guessing games? Even Jet star, despite their flaws, still offer bang for your buck for those quick trips from A-B and offer decent service.

C’mon Air New Zealand. You are home to the world’s largest Polynesian population. You have won ‘best airline’ awards. Sadly some of your employees do not reflect the multicultural embrace you claim to have.  There needs to be more than just an apology. Recruitment processes need reviewing. Your job application forms state that it is imperative for applicants to be culturally sensitive and empathetic. You are the official airline for our All Blacks – a team where half the players are Polynesian. The sooner you start comprehending that Pacific people have been flying first and business class for years, the sooner you will be able to provide ALL customers with the same level of service they deserve. This poor woman needs more than just an empty apology. I hope she is compensated accordingly and more.


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