Claire Nathan says she had her dreams of being an air hostess dashed after Air New Zealand turned her away because of her ta moko.
Ms Nathan applied for her dream job in January, but last month, the national flag carrier terminated an interview when she declared the traditional Maori motif on her lower arm.
Last night, she told Maori TV show Native Affairs how the interview initially went well, until it came to filling out a form that asked if she had any visible tattoos.
"I thought, 'This is interesting. I wonder why they are asking me that. Maybe it's because they want to know if I have a ta moko.'
"I thought that they would be quite proud to have someone with a ta moko working and representing New Zealand. [But it's] not the case. [It] was the total opposite."
Ms Nathan said she was told tattoos that could not be covered by the uniform were unacceptable.
"I said straight away, 'This is a ta moko.' She [the interviewer] said, 'You can't even cover that up' and that 'we will have to stop this interview.'
"I was totally shocked and just couldn't believe what I was hearing."
She said it was a double standard from an airline whose logo is a koru.
Heavily tattooed singer Gin Wigmore has appeared in Air NZ ads, as have numerous inked All Blacks.
Ms Nathan said she never thought her ta moko - depicting her heritage and her two children - would limit her career choices.
Air New Zealand said last night that tattoos were seen as "frightening or intimidating" in many cultures.
"Naturally we want all of our customers to feel comfortable and happy ... and this has been a key driver of our grooming standard which, like many other international airlines, prevents customer-facing staff from having visible tattoos."
Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples called the airline's policy a "contradiction".
"It's ironic when you think the airline has carried the koru in their logo for these many years," he said. "It's a bit of a contradiction that they have taken this stance on moko.
"Ta moko is part of ... our New Zealand culture, and our national airline who use the koru motif in their brand should respect our art form."
The Human Rights Commission says "a person of Maori descent may not be denied employment, entry to premises, or declined service because they wear moko visibly".