Strike or no strike at Air New Zealand, a fair bit of damage has already been done.
Air New Zealand and its engineers go to mediation tomorrow to avert a pre-Christmas strike that would be terrible for travellers and bad for the airline which has suffered disruption throughout the year.
In the way of these things, mediation typically results in the heat being turned down, a working party being set up, strike notice withdrawn and a quiet settlement somewhere down the track.
But these are not typical times for a company that has enjoyed relative industrial harmony - certainly in public - with its 12,000 staff for the best part of a decade.
The playbook on how to handle an industrial bust-up hasn't been needed for years.
The airline's proud of its employee engagement scores as being in the upper quartile of international peers, has long queues of applicants for jobs and often wins best employer awards. In the past year 71 per cent of employees were ''engaged'' with the company.
For the past five years the airline has worked collaboratively with unions — which cover around 70 per cent of its staff — in an attempt to end decades of distrust and hard-ball industrial relations.
This high performance engagement (HPE) encouraged parties to talk regularly about common interests, leaving position-based approaches at the door. It's hard, time consuming and outside the comfort zone for some but it's worked and has helped save jobs.
It seems HPE wasn't used with this round of negotiations - and even if it had been used there's growing scepticism at the process by some engineers.
After the union lodged a notice of a strike on December 21, things quickly turned septic.
Instead of some reassuring statement about looking forward to mediation and how much progress had already been made, the airline spelled out in some detail the pay the 970 engineers get, demands for car parks and putting blame on the unions as potentially wrecking Christmas for 40,000 travellers.
It had the look of an employer that feels as if it is under-appreciated.
Likewise the unions, E tū and the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association, are also publicly injured, painting as ''misleading'' information released by Air New Zealand which they say is usually run past them before being put out. Engineers feel ''insulted'' by an offer that they say is less than made to other employee groups.
The unions' sharp response contrasted with their usual stance of being reluctant to say a bad word about the company.
Just like the airline, they feel under-appreciated.
This leaves both sides in unfamiliar territory with quite some ground after the public spat. Talks tomorrow are with a private mediator. That's before getting to the gnarly substantive issues ahead of them.
Any offer will need to be made quickly to avert a strike because it could take about three days to ballot members.
It's been a tough year for the airline, with weather disruption and the knock-on effects from Dreamliner engine problems requiring staff (management and operational workers) to spend long hours at the weekend rejigging schedules and those at the frontline dealing with passengers grumpy at being bumped from flights and aircraft they believed they'd booked.
In spite of this the airline recorded its second-best profit ever; the eye on the bottom line is laser focused.
This month the airline told staff in an internal newsletter it was looking to cut more costs as part of its plan to get fit for the tougher times that inevitably arrive in the airline business.
The 95 per cent strike vote by the engineers is a sign that not all ''Air New Zealanders'' are completely on board with the company's approach.
Uncertainty over travel is never good, especially at Christmas time. A resolution to this dispute is needed quickly.