Video: Veteran Air New Zealand crew member emotionally returns to sky after COVID-19 made him redundant

To most New Zealanders, the opening of the travel bubble with Australia means catching up with friends and family, or spending a weekend somewhere that wasn't just up the road.

But for Ernst Wrede, a man who has worn the koru proudly on his chest for decades as a crew member at Air New Zealand, it meant a lot more than that.  

Last year, during the peak of lockdown when social distancing was a way of life, Ernst was in a hotel room in Los Angeles when he got a phone call and was told he was being made redundant.

"It was the saddest moment. I remember I was trembling, but the crew I was with were amazing," Ernset tells Newshub.

"We couldn't meet up with each other as we were in lockdown, but they were knocking on the door and passing messages under it."

Ernst tells people his name comes from Invercargill.
Ernst tells people his name comes from Invercargill. Photo credit: Newshub

Fast-forward to March 2021 and Ernst received another phone call - this time to invite him back to the job he loved so much, thanks to the trans-Tasman bubble opening.

His uniform which had been returned to the airline was immaculate, almost as though it had never been worn, let alone travelled tens of thousands of kilometres through night and day.

Ernst says he feels complete when he has his uniform on - it's a part of him, he says, and has been for 33 years. And he knows every stitch and pattern on that uniform too, from all of its hidden little pieces of kiwiana through to its intricate Māori motifs.

He knows the uniform's entire design like the back of his hand.
He knows the uniform's entire design like the back of his hand. Photo credit: Newshub

Many past and present employees of Air NZ say the airline is more like a family than a business, and that certainly seems to be the case for Ernst.

"My home is up there in the sky, in the plane," he says while smiling and looking upwards.

So, in a way, the trans-Tasman travel bubble did reunite Ernst with his family too; just like the many thousands of people he will serve over the coming months while up in the air. 

Watch the video interview Ernst Wrede above.