Air NZ CEO Greg Foran offers 'sincere apology' after refund and credit systems 'could not cope' with COVID-19 pressure

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran has issued a sincere apology to customers who experienced problems with refund and credit requests this year.

His comments were made at Thursday's select committee briefing addressing the effects of COVID-19 on the airline.

Foran claimed Air NZ's customer services would take around 5000 calls per day before coronavirus struck, but that number jumped to as many as 75,000 calls in one day as the air travel industry was decimated by the pandemic.

When a specific customer's troubles with getting a refund were explained to him during the select committee, the airline boss was quick to say sorry.

"I want to give a sincere apology. We continue to have to apologise and it's not easy," said Foran.

"As you can imagine, no airline built a refund or credit procedure to deal with the fact it would have to cancel every single flight. That, in essence, is what we've found ourselves doing. Our systems and processes just could not cope. 

"It takes about three months to train someone because of the complexity of the systems in this. So frankly we were caught without enough trained people to do this."

Foran pointed to the recent "minimum viable product" that is the online credit redemption tool launched earlier this week, but added that the company has "more work to do here".

"We want even for people who have booked a flight using Airpoints and used cash to top up, we want people to be able to handle that in a self-serve capacity. At the moment, that's not available... there's a whole bunch of things we've still got to do," said Foran.

"But trust me, we will not leave any stone unturned, because you never know when COVID-20 might come and we would not want to find ourselves in the same situation that we've found ourselves in now."

Elsewhere in the questioning, Foran confirmed around 4000 Air NZ staff have been made redundant due to COVID-19 so far.

He told MPs that the airline has been in "survival mode" due to the pandemic and hasn't yet started to use the Government's special $900 million loan, but expected it would have to soon.

Foran estimated around a third of the airlines operating around the world would "disappear" should the current restrictions on air travel continue into 2021.