Fury at ‘sky-high’ Air NZ prices

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Air New Zealand’s high prices to fly to and from Nelson have attracted a huge wave of criticism from its own customers.

Last week Nelson Weekly reported on several issues that local customers were having with the airline. Since then close to 200 emails, phone calls and comments via the newspaper’s website and Facebook page have flooded in, our largest response ever. A handful of comments were negative about the story but more than 90 per cent praised the paper for reporting the high prices and other issues including alleged rude behaviour from one of its staff members.

Kim Langridge, the airport manager for Air Nelson says she was disappointed in the article.

“Errol Hardie has worked for Air New Zealand for more than 25 years and during his time he has proudly served thousands of Nelsonians.  Clearly there are some people who have been disappointed with Errol’s customer service which is something we will certainly discuss with him.”

This newspaper had over 37 authenticated written complaints many of which were forwarded to the airline in an attempt to show them the perceived severity of the situation. Other issues raised included Air New Zealand’s monopoly on the industry in Nelson and the high fares they offer.

Last week Air New Zealand said the cost of its fares was higher for smaller aeroplanes. “The operating costs for these aircraft are higher and the costs are shared by fewer passengers and this is reflected in the ticket prices. As a comparison, Air New Zealand operates larger A320 aircraft on our Tasman and Pacific Island routes which not only have lower operating costs they also carry up to 168 passengers at a time.”

But a retired engineer came forward this week to debunk that reason, saying the operating costs for smaller planes are a lot less. “It is not true that smaller turboprop operated out of Nelson cost more to operate than larger jets on other domestic routes. A 737-800’s operating costs are $US7578 per hour. A Q300 (Nelson) operating costs are $US2688 per hour,” wrote Tony Emsley. “The high late booking price is because the airline knows that people will pay it when they have to travel. Of course no competition does help.”

Kelly Kilgour, of Air New Zealand, says the airline does discount fares to various destinations and bigger planes are coming to Nelson more. “We deploy our larger more efficient aircraft to regional centres in line with demand. Nelson is a growth market and we’re increasingly utilising our larger 68 seat ATR aircraft on the Auckland-Nelson route to increase capacity and stimulate demand which will ultimately flow through to being able to offer a greater volume of cheaper fares out of Nelson.”

But customers were less than happy with the current state of pricing.

Diane Boote says she had to fly to Christchurch for an urgent MRI scan after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The return airfare cost her $456, which she found “ludicrous” and applied for dispensation for urgent medical treatment.

“This MRI could not be done in Nelson, and Christchurch was the only alternative. I am a long-time Koru member and also a shareholder in Air New Zealand,” she pleaded to Air New Zealand.

The response from Air New Zealand was: “Unfortunately our guideline cannot cover passengers who need to make last minute bookings for medical visits at other ports. Mrs Boote, I am sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis and wish you well.”

Sophie Thorn says when she was skiing down in Queenstown last year she spoke to a few people who had instead of taking a flight from Nelson direct to Queenstown had taken a flight from Nelson to Auckland, Auckland to Brisbane, Brisbane to Queenstown as it was “so much cheaper” than flying Nelson to Queenstown. “It’s disgusting the prices they charge, just because they are taking advantage of Nelson, it’s stripping people from being able to enjoy a nice holiday and in some cases visiting family members around NZ.”

Helen Hills wrote that she recently went on-line to book tickets to fly from Nelson to Melbourne, via Auckland and return from Sydney. “The fares seemed excessive compared to the fares that our friends had booked out of Blenheim for the same destinations. We looked at earlier and later flights from Nelson to connect with the Auckland to Melbourne flight, but they were even more expensive. In the end, we decided to drive over the hill and travel with our friends from Blenheim, saving $606, minus the fuel.”

But Air New Zealand says it does release cheap flights. “Our cheapest fares always sell out first for obvious reasons.  If a customer is trying to book very close to their travel date or on a particularly popular date the cheapest fares are generally already sold out. However, Air New Zealand continually releases discounted fares to various domestic destinations.”