Flight attendant at centre of drink-drive storm identified

The identity of a flight attendant at the centre of police claims of a drinking and drug culture among Air New Zealand staff has been revealed.

Details have also emerged of how the attendant, Wendy Collins, was referred to the company’s alcohol and drug specialist and advised to undertake an awareness programme to learn safe drinking guidelines before she was sacked.

Her arrest sparked an angry stand-off between the airline and police, whose district superintendent suggested Air NZ was allowing a drink culture to develop. And unions accused the police of breaching personal privacy by dobbing in Air NZ staff to their employer.

But the Employment Relations Authority decision, just released, applauds police for acting to protect public safety from intoxicated drivers.

Collins was stopped at a police checkpoint on May 10 as she drove to Auckland Airport to crew an international flight to Rarotonga.

Her breath-alcohol reading was 545 micrograms per litre of breath. The legal limit is 400mcg. She was convicted and fined.

That month, police Superintendent Kevin Kelly alerted Air New Zealand management to the incident and informed them of a number of other staff members who had been caught driving to work while under the influence of alcohol.  In an internal email to national road policing manager Paula Rose, released to TV3 under the Official Information Act, Kelly said the incidents were “the tip of the iceberg”.

The suggestion the airline had a drink-driving problem among staff caused outrage, with chief executive Rob Fyfe making a complaint to Police Commissioner Howard Broad.

Meanwhile Collins was dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct – including breaching the company’s alcohol and drug policy, calling in sick at short notice and delaying the departure of a commercial flight, and bringing Air New Zealand into disrepute as a result of being caught drink-driving in full uniform.

Collins claimed the dismissal was unjustified. She told the Employment Relations Authority she had been drinking with friends the night before she was caught drink-driving, but stopped at 10pm.

She believed she had complied with the company’s zero blood-alcohol policy by not drinking alcohol within 10 hours of being on duty.

In its decision the ERA said Collins’ dismissal was “unduly harsh” but she did not have a personal grievance and her claims were dismissed.


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