COMMENT:

Relief. That's what most Air New Zealand passengers who had faced pre-Christmas disruption will be feeling.

But many will be feeling annoyed and that little bit more wary of booking a flight around any important event.

The unions and the airline hammered out a deal after three days of talks and strike notices have been withdrawn. Details have yet to be released but unions - whose members must vote on the deal - claim that most of their demands have been met.

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There needs to be a some serious introspection when the dust settles.

Unions and the airline can say that the system worked, they talked, they finally agreed but along the way tens of thousands of passengers were stressed by the prospect of the strike. Some went to the trouble and expense of changing flights.

Both unions and the airline need to figure out how it came to this.  The airline promotes itself as a great employer, high engagement by staff and queues of applicants for jobs. But the original overwhelming vote to strike by almost 1000 engineers and logistics staff crucial to keeping jets operating clearly showed that not all staff are happy Air New Zealanders.

Under their noses, Air New Zealand bosses saw simmering discontent become full blown anger. If it was a case of picking a fight with the unions, it was a strange time to do it.

E tū and the Aviation and Marine Power Association overestimated public sympathy for their cause. There was very little on show.

While logical to target holiday travel for maximum leverage, choosing this time was always going to provoke an aggressive response from Air NZ. The airline was able to quickly paint the workers as Grinches who were about to steal Christmas, in turn a tactic that didn't help cool the row.

The airline and unions were keen to trade barbs in public last Friday but communication with the public during the talks was minimal. High stakes negotiations are delicate, that's accepted, but they are also sensitive times for passengers in limbo.

There's been brand damage all round.

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After the deal was done last night, E tū said the airline and four employee unions have a union-management partnership and a commitment to keep working on solutions even if they publicly disagree.

Travellers will hope they do their disagreeing at a different time of the year next time.