Sky High, Skin Deep

Sky High, Skin Deep

From Māori Television

Air New Zealand’s promotional video featuring the very tattooed Gin Wigmore’s famous tune. But for our national carrier, we’ve found out it’s not what’s “under your skin” but what’s on top that maters if you’re applying for a position at Air New Zealand.

“I didn’t think that because i was going to get a tamoko and where i was going to position my tamoko i never thought that would stop me, with any career choice. I still can’t believe that now,” says Claire Nathan, Tainui, Ngati Maniapoto, Ngapuhi.

Claire Nathan applied for her dream job as a flight attendant at Air New Zealand in January this year. After 22 years of hairdressing, the mom of two wanted a career change to allow her to spend more time with her whanau.

“I bought my own salon myself and another friend and we had our business for the last 13 years, so it’s been really awesome we’ve had lots of customer care. So from there I went oh gosh my kids are getting older now. I would like to spend more time with them. So Air New Zealand came up and that’s how I’ve come to apply to Air New Zealand,” says Nathan.

So Claire filled out an online application form for a flight attendants position. Her application was accepted and she was invited to a “walk-in-day” last month.

“It was quite uplifting, they motivated you, they explained what the ethos of Air New Zealand was all about, and you were enticed into thinking that this is going to be a great career for me. After that, we were all taken into a room because, the next process was one on one interviews,” says Nathan.

On Air New Zealand’s website they describe the walk-in day like a speed date. At first, Claire and Air New Zealand seemed to hit it off.

“We had a declaration form to fill out and the question on that was, ‘do I have a visible tattoo?’ There were a few questions on there but one that hit me was, do I have a visible tattoo so I thought, ‘ooh this is interesting… I wonder why they’re asking me that…’ Maybe its because they want to know if I have a tamoko; I thought they would be quite proud to have someone with a tamoko working and representing New Zealand… umm no not the case – it’s the total opposite. Another current member of Air New Zealand, she said to me, ‘look Claire we don’t, our policy is, we don’t accept tattoos outside our regulated uniforms. We’re not allowed to wear a tattoo outside our uniforms.’ I said straight away this is a tamoko. She said, ‘you can’t even cover that up and that we’ll probably, that we will have to stop this interview.’ I was totally shocked and just couldn’t believe what I was hearing…” says Nathan.

“Our face whether it has moko on it or not, it does identify us as being Maori from this country. They are our national flight, you know, distributor as they go all around the world. Whenever they do their promotional advertising for Air New Zealand, they’re using our imagery; yet our people can’t wear it on and be a part of that industry. That’s confsing to me, and disrespectful to the people, our people that wear those symbols,” says Gordon Toi.

Gordon Toi has been a Ta Moko artist for the last 20 years. He found himself in the international spotlight after he gave singer/song writer Ben Harper, a Moko or Kirituhi a decade ago. He says air New Zealand needs to take a look at its policy which he says is out of date. He says there is a distinct difference between Ta Moko and tattoos.

“I think the difference between tattoo and moko is quite clear in that moko represents many aspects of an individual and indicates their whereabouts in terms of where they’re from. It indicates their geneaology, so past generations and present generations are all involved Whereas, a tattoo is something that will mark and occasion – and that does have some meaning to that individual is that why they’re going to permanently mark their skin. But the markings that we carry are hundreds, thousands of years old. So we inherit those designs by blood…so that for me is the biggest difference between what is s tattoo and what is a moko,” says Toi.

“The koru there is myself. And here’s my son through here, and here’s my daughter through here. And this is the story of my life,” says Nathan.

“I think if the shoe was on the other foot, Sonny Bill Williams and some of our all blacks, who who represent our country on the league fields and football fields around the world, I think if they were applying for that job, I think they would have got it…you know, so I think Air New Zealand needs to sort of sit down at the table with their cultural consultants and be advised to the difference between tattoo and moko. Moko is very much a part of who they are as a company and they use it on all their flyers, all their promotional material, but its not good enough for their people to wear it on board and represent our country in that way,” says Toi.

Air New Zealand first used the koru logo on its DC-10 aircraft in 1970. It’s a strong Maori image that still takes pride of place on its fleet of aircraft today. But just when Claire thought her speed date with Air New Zealand couldn’t get any worse, there was more baggage coming that ultimately force their turbulent relationship to an abrupt end.

She carried on to say, ‘look Claire, we won’t be able to continue with this, as Air New Zealand policy is: you do not have a tattoo, do not wear a tatttoo outside our uniform. Nor will you be able to do ground floor work, check-in, because the same rule applies with their uniform. But what we could do for you Claire, is we could find you other jobs that you could apply for within Air New Zealand… like baggage or cargo.’ And I thought, ‘oh my gosh, how degrading. If I wanted to apply for cargo or baggage, I would have applied for cargo or baggage…umm totally didn’t think that was right…” says Nathan.

“Well um, i can’t say what I really want to say but I think that’s a really disrespectful remark to make to the people that actually work in those services for Air New Zeeland. And what does it say to the employees, their staff; it’s a real weird kind of a comment  to make to a person regardless if they have moko or not,” says Toi.

“I think… I’d like Air New Zealand to take a look at their policy. I’d like them to acknowledge that a ta moko is not a threat; that a tamoko is to be worn with pride. And if Air New Zealand thinks their passengers will get rammed with maoridom or moaritanga, their wrong…” says Nathan.

Air New Zealand and Claire’s first date could be described as a complete disaster, but Claire Nathan still remains optimistic that she could get her happily ever after.

“Kia ora, my name is Claire and I hope to be your flight attendant for your next Air New Zealand flight.” says Nathan.



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