Air New Zealand responds as customers complain of hours-long phone wait times

Air New Zealand has responded after fed-up travellers have reported waiting on the phone for several hours before being able to speak with the airline.
Photo credit: Getty Images / Air NZ

Air New Zealand has responded after fed-up travellers have reported waiting on the phone for several hours before being able to speak with the airline.

Amid Aotearoa's peak summer travel period and the missing luggage issue plaguing airlines around the world, angry customers are sharing a plethora of complaints online about the national carrier's services.

One Reddit user claimed they were on hold for 11 hours, while another proclaimed, "I give up on our third world airline" after a four-hour wait.

An Air NZ spokesperson told Newshub this week the average wait time was currently around 50 minutes throughout the day for calls to the contact centre regarding international travel and 30 minutes for domestic, adding they "understand it can be frustrating and time consuming to wait on hold".

Calls to the airline's baggage services number can take much longer as that team scrambles to get lost luggage back to its owners.

The airline strongly advises using this online baggage tracing service first before calling about luggage issues.

Reddit complaints about Air New Zealand.
Photo credit: Reddit

Last year Air NZ acknowledged it wasn't providing "the level of service we're known for" as travellers waited for hours to speak to a consultant while the travel industry recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the airline said it was adding 200 staff members to its then team of around 250, meaning there would be more than 450 call centre staff working once training was complete.

Although the company wouldn't disclose what the total number of call centre staff is currently, it said more than 370 employees have been recruited since the start of 2022 - and more are on the way.

"Over the past year, we have onboarded over 370 staff to help in our contact centre and call wait times are on the decline as we onboard more staff," the airline's chief operating officer Alex Marren told Newshub on Wednesday.

"Our customer wait times are currently at four minutes for domestic customers, and around an average of 30 minutes on average for the day. For international travel, the average wait time is 50 minutes for the day."

Travellers should be aware Air NZ has different phone numbers for its main helpline and its baggage services. If you're just after an item removed from your luggage, the process can be more complicated, depending on which airline you're flying with.

All airlines are dealing with the current international issue of misplaced baggage and the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ) blames that on a combination of factors.

Its executive director Cath O'Brien said ground handlers have had to be quickly recruited post-COVID-19, but finding staff that meet the necessary airport security checks and training them is very time-consuming. Additionally, luggage often has to go through multiple airports and sometimes items are not making their connections on time.

"Airlines know how frustrating it is for customers waiting for bags to arrive, especially in the holiday season," O'Brien said.

"Airlines, ground handlers and airport staff are all working extremely hard to reunite customers with their bags as soon as possible."

O'Brien suggests people take a photo of their bags, know their brand, colour label them well and even attach another additional identifier before travelling. That way, if it is lost, it will be nice and easy for someone to find even if it's grouped together with a large amount of other lost luggage.

Air NZ said it is pulling staff from other parts of its business to help with the luggage problems and this reportedly extends to the executive team, including CEO Greg Foran.

"Air NZ is doing all it can to help reduce the number of mishandled or lost bags and reunite them with their owners, and we have had more than 300 volunteers from across the business lend our baggage teams a helping hand during the busy holiday period," said Marren.

"We are also seconding a number of people from other areas of Air NZ to assist and are working closely with border agencies, airport companies, other airlines and ground handlers on an industry system-wide solution.

"While our baggage handling team is under enormous pressure and they are busy focusing on restoring baggage, call wait times to the baggage handling services are longer than usual. The call goes through to the airport teams dealing with misplaced baggage in real time, so there may be delays in people answering."