Higher help

7 Apr 2008 by Mark Caswell talks to Air New Zealand about the imminent launch of its in-flight concierge service and the airline’s green credentials.

Next month, Air New Zealand will become the first airline to offer an in-flight concierge service to its passengers. The airline says it has seen “huge” interest in the innovative posts and has spent the last few months whittling down 500 potential candidates to the 40 employees who will launch the service in May.

Speaking at the inauguration of Turkish Airlines into Star Alliance last week (ANZ is also a member of the alliance), deputy CEO Norm Thompson said: “We’ve had interest from candidates including school teachers, café and restaurant owners, senior hotel concierges, crew members and even sales staff. We’ve also had a lot of interest from tourism operators, who have provided us with a mass of information for the concierges.”

The airline says the onboard concierges will be available to all passengers, and will have diverse duties ranging from recommending must-do Kiwi activities, to assisting customers with onward bookings, supporting those affected by weather disruption, advising passengers on managing their Airpoints, and talking through the finer points of customers’ in-flight wine choices.

Thompson said: “As technology develops, they might even be able to make restaurant bookings for passengers from the plane. The concierges will be available to answer queries on a one-to-one basis, something that cabin staff are not always able to do when there are 350 passengers onboard.”

Thompson said that the concierges would work in conjunction with the flight-service manager, but would not be involved with tasks such as meal duties or safety announcements. They will be introduced to passengers at the beginning of flights and will wear a different uniform from cabin staff so as to stand out.

Thompson added that 60-70 per cent of the service’s focus will be on New Zealand, with flights between Auckland and LA seeing onboard concierges from May. London is also in the process of recruiting, with plans to have concierges on board flights ex-Heathrow from July.

The service is just one way that ANZ is aiming to “do things a bit differently” and thus compete with larger long-haul carriers. Air New Zealand offers a round-the-world service (pioneered by the defunct Pan Am), with passengers able to circumvent the globe with stops in London, Hong Kong, Auckland, LA and back to London all with ANZ. As Thompson put it: “For a relatively small carrier, these services make us look bigger.”

He also hinted that the airline might look to again increase the capacity of its premium economy cabins, which have proved a success since their launch in 2006. The airline says there are no definite plans as yet, but the service currently runs at average load-factors of over 80 per cent according to Thompson, so don’t be surprised to see the service extended soon.

The carrier is also taking green issues seriously, in a year when New Zealand will play host to the World Environment Day (WED). Thompson said: “We have set a target that by June 5 [when WED takes place] we will be ready to announce the date of Air New Zealand’s first biofuel test flight. We will fly a 747 with one engine running on biofuel, which will show us the upsides and downsides of the technology.”

ANZ has also launched a voluntary carbon-offsetting scheme for visitors to its New Zealand website and this will soon be extended to UK-based customers. Contributions go towards Kyoto-approved schemes, and the airline is also “showing leadership” by setting up an environmental trust to invest in projects such as a tourism park on barren farmland in New Zealand, which will see the planting of native trees to create a “carbon-positive farm” and encourage native birds to settle.

Even ANZ staff are getting involved in the green effort – the airline has established a company-wide Green Team to promote environmental sustainability at work and at home, with more than 2,000 Air New Zealand staff joining the initiative.

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Report by Mark Caswell

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