Jetstar boss well grounded

Grant Kerr takes regular ribbing by TV show in his stride as he works to improve service.

Grant Kerr keeps a sense of humour about Jetstar being a source of comedy for the 7 Days TV show.
Grant Kerr keeps a sense of humour about Jetstar being a source of comedy for the 7 Days TV show.

Jetstar New Zealand head Grant Kerr is used to rolling with the punches.

The affable Aussie started his working life battling the extreme elements in the Outback as a linesman, suffered a bruising exit from his last job at an Air New Zealand subsidiary and his airline is ribbed on an almost weekly basis on a Friday night TV comedy slot.

He reckons at worst the regular mentions on 7 Days are good for building brand awareness but more positively provide a chance to learn.

"I look at them as an opportunity for us to look at the reason they're putting it forward."

The airline doesn't bear a grudge. It's never once complained and is a Comedy Festival sponsor.

"You've got to have a sense of humour."

Kerr quit as head of Air New Zealand company Air Nelson at the end of last year, was put on gardening leave for six months but became embroiled in an employment case when his former bosses tried to push his start date at Jetstar out for the rest of this year.

It ended up in the Employment Court with Air New Zealand arguing Kerr could capitalise on inside information.

Kerr won and while he can understand Air New Zealand's decision to bring the case, personal attacks hurt.

"I could understand Air New Zealand moving down that track. It was business [but] it was bruising."

He argued he couldn't or wouldn't have remembered minute operational details as was claimed and he's certainly not willing to spill the beans now.

In fact he's something of a defender of Air New Zealand, at least on what it charges on regional routes, fares that have been criticised in the provinces.

"In a smaller size aircraft the cost per seat is more expensive. You have got to look at the costs."

He spent nine years at Air New Zealand, starting off heading its cargo operation before leading Eagle Air and Air Nelson regional operations.

"I worked with some really great people but the move to Jetstar was great for me - it's a young organisation with no legacy [issues]. It's vibrant."

The Qantas subsidiary started flying domestic routes here in 2009 and with its Queenstown sector in particular vulnerable to weather problems, its whole network was affected and it was sometimes late, famously very late on occasions.

The airline this year launched a campaign to get the basics right, has a ninth plane and technology that allows it to land in Queenstown in more severe weather and is now hammering its "on time performance" - a measure of the percentage of flights that take off within 10 minutes of scheduled departure time.

Kerr said it is about building trust and making sure if passengers fly on the airline, they'll return for more.

While there is no independent monitoring or auditing of on time performance (OTP), something Kerr said the airline would welcome, Jetstar and Air New Zealand go head to head.

Jetstar said in the year to October, 83 per cent of flights departed within 10 minutes of schedule compared to a monthly average of 73 per cent the previous year.

It said its performance over August and September was better than Air New Zealand, to which its competitor replied that over the past four years Jetstar's OTP had averaged 78.5 per cent compared with Air New Zealand's 84.6 per cent despite having thousands more flights a week.

Jetstar was now working with its 400 staff based in Auckland and Christchurch to improve customer engagement aiming at a "Kiwi casual" approach to service.

"It's about respecting people at the check-in and making them feel welcome and making them feel relaxed," he said.

"For men in particular our staff may be the first person that they have spoken to in the morning."

- NZ Herald

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