Armstrong gets Jetstarred


It was meant to be a family reunion commemorating the death of a beloved relative. Air tickets were booked and the two sisters, both working their guts out in part-time jobs to put themselves through university, arrived at Wellington Airport on Sunday morning in plenty of time for their flight to Auckland.

But then they were Jetstarred. All flights to Auckland that day had been cancelled. Fog? A crack in the tail of the plane? A terrorist alert at Auckland airport? After much obfuscation the reason was given – “engineering problems”. Sometimes an indicator light fails and passengers patiently wait a few minutes before take- off for the fault to be fixed. But every flight that day cancelled due to a single engineering problem? What happened – did a wing fall off? …

Realising the reunion could be missed, tears flowed, friends were called, credit card numbers were yelled over the phone and eventually the girls got to Auckland. Everyone said: “Thank God for even if it does cost an arm and a leg to fly at short notice”.

If this was a one-off incident I would simply dismiss it as one of the perils of air travel, but the same family got Jetstarred the same way three months earlier. Around the same time my niece tried to return from Australia for a long weekend. By the time her delayed Jetstar flight actually left Melbourne it was so late she would have had to turn around again on arrival in Auckland so she spent what little was left of her weekend telling her Facebook friends she would never fly Jetstar again.

My policy is to never fly Jetstar (inside NZ, they seem fine in Australia) unless there is no other flight available. I also have a standing policy that if an organisation wants me to travel to speak at their conference, that they must not book me on Jetstar.

But there is one reason I am grateful to Jetstar. Every time a Tory argues that the private sector does things more efficiently than the public, I say “What about Jetstar and Air New Zealand?” and the conversation turns to the weather.

Air NZ is of course a great example of the Mixed Ownership Model 🙂

I would point out that Air NZ have consistently had good service – both as 100% privately owned, and as a MOM.

Have you ever tried flying to Gisborne at short notice? It’ll cost you slightly more than going to Samoa and slightly less than Perth. Because Air New Zealand has a monopoly on most regional routes, they charge like wounded bulls. Is this an example of a state enterprise using its monopoly to rip off people in the regions? Possibly, but it could also be what happens when private investors buy part of a state asset. The state may want to provide an affordable service but private investors will be looking to maximise profit – even if it means gouging Gizzy.

I think it is simply just because no one else wants to fly to Gisborne. The problem is not what percentage of an airline is owned by the state (SOEs act just as commercially as the private sector), but the lack of competition. And I say you are more likely to get fairer competition when the Government that sets the competition rules does not own one of the companies involved.

What would be wonderful is a state airline with the level of service that Air New Zealand provides, but that is also affordable to those on low incomes and in the regions. You may be right to think that I’m dreaming, and that it will only happen when pigs can fly Jetstar.

Having checked the Air NZ website, there are some pretty decent fares from Wellington to Gisborne. You can fly up there for $89 and back for $109 if you book well enough in advance.

When I fly to Auckland, I often find the four taxi trips costs me more than the return airfare!

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