Air New Zealand flight attendant sacked for bad behaviour

Disruptive airline passengers usually make headlines, but sometimes staff can misbehave as well.

Former Air New Zealand flight attendant Jennifer Kilpatrick lost her bid to get her job back after she was fired following a string of bad behaviour during a return flight to Rarotonga.

Former colleagues say the flight attendant was combative from the start of the flight.
Former colleagues say the flight attendant was combative from the start of the flight. Photo: Bloomberg

Allegations made against Kilpatrick included shouting at fellow staff, acting rudely to passengers, failing to perform her tasks and eating food that should have been made available to passengers.

Things got so bad on the March 2012 flight that the captain considered taking the rare step of standing Kilpatrick down.

Following a disastrous feedback session and a period of sick leave, Air NZ dismissed Kilpatrick.

She then took a personal grievance case to the Employment Relations Authority claiming she was unjustifiably dismissed, but there was no merit found to her claims.

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Kilpatrick appealed the decision to the Employment Court claiming unjustifiable dismissal and breach of contract, in a case that was heard in July last year.

In his just-released decision, Judge Mark Perkins again threw out Kilpatrick's claims and noted that when giving evidence in court she had been deliberately misinterpreting questions to give vague answers.

He found it difficult to understand Kilpatrick's stance and believed Air NZ were well within their rights to start disciplinary action against her.

"Ms Kilpatrick failed to appropriately engage with Air NZ in good faith and in a timely manner.

"She refused to agree to meetings with management which were arranged so that AIr NZ could hear her side of events and possibly get to the bottom of why she had behaved in the way she did and by which discussion she could possibly have saved her employment."

Another flight attendant on the Rarotonga flight, Michelle Coyle, gave evidence that Kilpatrick had been combative from the start.

During a pre-flight meeting of attendants, she said she asked Kilpatrick if she preferred to be called Jenny or Jen, which was met with the response: "Neither, I am neither of them and if you want to call me that I'm going home; it's over".

During the flight Kilpatrick was responsible for the galley and her attitude was described as poor by Coyle.

Kilpatrick had not programmed the in-flight entertainment screens to include food orders, leading to complaints from passengers about a lack of food.

The galley was described as "a shambles" with carts out and no replenishing of tea or coffee.

One passenger also saw Kilpatrick eating one of the pies, which were supposed to be available for purchase by passengers but had not been added to the in-flight screen.

The passenger made a pointed comment to Kilpatrick about the situation, who then "rudely berated him" for watching her while she ate.

After shouting at several other flight attendants and calling them "useless" she was told to stop shouting but said "I'm not shouting, I have a loud voice".

During the return flight, Kilpatrick broke protocol by going to the flight deck without clearance from the flight service manager to complain about her fellow flight attendants.

The two pilots formed the view Kilpatrick was trying to intimidate her staff members and "had it in" for Coyle.

Because of her behaviour, it was decided Kilpatrick would be given her performance rating, mandatory for all flight attendants following a flight, when the plane landed.

Two managers boarded to assist in the debrief after the passengers had disembarked but Kilpatrick reacted badly, suddenly claiming she was sick.

Coyle refused to accept this and the feedback session took place, with Kilpatrick complaining throughout.

She proceeded to make disparaging comments about the in-flight services coordinator, for whom English was a second language, when he attempted to give her feedback.

"Can you speak English?" she said.

Following the incident Kilpatrick went on sick leave, providing a medical certificate from her doctor and claiming workplace stress.

Air NZ attempted to make an appointment for her to see an Air NZ medical officer, which is standard procedure when workplace stress is raised, but Kilpatrick refused and a stalemate developed regarding her return to work.

During this period Kilpatrick was mistakenly rostered to work a flight to San Francisco and did so, despite being told she was banned until cleared to fly.

Air NZ then began disciplinary procedures against Kilpatrick, which ended in her being fired.

Stuff.co.nz