A former Air New Zealand stewardess has given emotional testimony on the first day of her appeal in a long-running employment dispute with the airline.

Jennifer Kilpatrick broke down in tears as she described the emotional and financial hardship she experienced since losing her job.

She was sacked after a disagreement with bosses about her behaviour on flight NZ19 from Rarotonga to Auckland in March 2012 and her subsequent sick leave.

Ms Kilpatrick took the dispute to the Employment Relations Authority, which ruled in 2013 that she was justifiably dismissed, and ordered her to pay $10,000 in costs to the national carrier.

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However, she is fighting that decision and seeking reinstatement at an Employment Court hearing in Auckland.

Ms Kilpatrick broke down in tears several times today as she described being "detained" after the return leg of an Auckland-Rarotonga-Auckland flight on March 6, 2012 as managers attempted to conduct a performance review.

She described the process as abusive, claiming she was ignored and mocked when she said she felt sick.

The hearing was told that as she went to leave the plane after all the passengers had disembarked, she was stopped by her flight services manager Michelle Coyle, who asked her to stay behind for her performance review.

When she tried to leave she was met by cabin crew manager Phil Callaghan, and performance and development manager Lee Barrett, who had been called to assist Ms Coyle.

"I'm in no doubt that I was deliberately prevented by Mr Callaghan and Mr Barrett from leaving the aircraft," Ms Kilpatrick told the court, adding it was 35 minutes before she was allowed to leave the plane.

"[I] have no hesitation in stating I found the whole experience extremely traumatic and humiliating."

She later said: "The facts were inaccurate, the feedback was unfair, the criticisms unfortunate, and the situation exaggerated to my detriment."

No issues about her behaviour or actions had been raised with her during the flight, she said. But during the review she was given a mark of one out of five across all four assessment areas.

"I have never received all ones in my performance assessment in my 12 years [working at Air New Zealand]. To my knowledge I have never experienced something like that," she said, adding the scores were an "inaccurate" reflection of her performance.

She was told the galley area was "a mess" and "falling to pieces", and was also marked poorly under finances, which Ms Kilpatrick said was unusual as "there was no money exchanged on that flight".

Ms Kilpatrick said she "repeatedly" told managers she felt "sick and stressed" because of the situation, but was "assured" by Ms Coyle that "I was not feeling sick and was not going to be sick".

Ms Coyle was "very dismissive" of her complaints, Ms Kilpatrick said, which only served to make the whole situation "more distressing for me".

Following this incident, Ms Kilpatrick took a period of stress-related sick leave, during which time she forwarded medical certificates from her family GP, but refused to see an airline-appointed doctor. She told the court her psychologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress.

The airline would not allow her to return to work until she was cleared by one of its own physicians, but owing to a "mistake" she was rostered to work on an Auckland to San Francisco route in June.

Her performance review following that flight was good, she said. However, it came during the height of her dispute with the company, when it had stopped paying her sick leave, and as she was raising a personal grievance. She was sacked the following month.

The personal and financial strain on her had been "significant", she said today. She had been forced to sell her house in Wellington, and relocate to Australia to live with her mother who was unwell, she said, struggling to contain her emotions. She was unemployed, and reliant on friends and family to help support her.

The case continues.

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DISPUTE:

Arising from an Auckland-Rarotonga-Auckland flight in March 2012.

Jennifer Kilpatrick claims:

- Air New Zealand managers "unlawfully detained" her on board the plane after it had landed at Auckland, and prevented her from leaving.

- Forced her to listen to a performance review which was "inaccurate", and abusive.

- That managers were dismissive of her claims that she felt unwell during that meeting.

- That her flight services manager Michelle Coyle did not invite her to a crew dinner and drinks in Rarotonga during the layover period, and discussed her with the captain of the plane during that dinner.

- There were safety issues on the Rarotonga to Auckland flight on March 6 concerning Ms Coyle and another manager on board the plane, which she raised with the captain.

- That Ms Coyle broke procedure to use a satellite phone to call Air NZ senior staff to meet the plane on landing, when the phone is usually reserved for emergencies only.

- That she had been forced to work the Auckland-Rarotonga-Auckland route despite only recently returning from Papeete, Tahiti, and not being given the appropriate rest time between long-haul flights.

- She had been cleared to work on April 17 by her own doctor.

Air NZ claims:

- Ms Kilpatrick failed to act with integrity and respect for others by acting in an aggressive and disrespectful manner on board the flight, including shouting in the vicinity of passengers.

- Her behaviour was so worrying on board flight NZ19 from Rarotonga the captain considered standing her down because she was compromising safety.

- Ms Kilpatrick was disruptive and uncooperative when they tried to provide her performance feedback, which is standard for every flight attendant following a flight.

- Refused to see an Air NZ-appointed doctor to confirm her stress-related sick leave, or to clear her for work.

- Worked an Auckland to San Francisco flight when she was not cleared to work.