The puppet mascot peddling Air New Zealand to the world is a sleazy pervert, say embarrassed airline staff.

They have spoken out against Air New Zealand's double standards, but won't be named for fear of disciplinary action.

Rico is a randy rodent who Air NZ has pushed as its new mascot.

The Jim Henson-created puppet is an indeterminate creature of vaguely Latin American origins with the behaviour of a lounge lizard and the English skills of Fawlty Towers' Manuel.

His humour is in double entendre - he speaks of New Zealand beaches as "nice Kiwi bitches" and hiking as "beating off the track". Other jokes are cruder.

One male staff member who deals with the public said: "It is appalling Air NZ is using double standards.

"They hold their staff up to one level of conduct and yet the language, the behaviour expressed in their marketing campaign, is well short of what they expect from their employees."

He said staff had been reprimanded for making comments that were far less offensive.

The advertising campaign also showed Rico as a staff member encouraging strangers to have sex on new reclining seats and showed him grabbing the crotch of a passenger.

"It's utterly inappropriate. If you were advertising for erotica or a pornographic shop - fine. But we are marketing what we are selling to the world as an elite product. Why cheapen it?"

The staff member said the Rico campaign had triggered comments on the company internal computer system from staff.

"Well over 50 per cent of the staff who have commented are opposed to the campaign."

A female staff member who deals with the public said the advertising campaign was a "contradiction. Air New Zealand has strict internal policies for its own employees. Rico as the face of Air NZ is the reverse of that.

"Rico makes un-PC comments and we have been a PC company. It is hypocritical [when] their employees can be fired for petty things."

Marketing manager Mike Tod - who insisted on referring to the puppet as a person - said there was more to come.

"Rico has spent a bit of time discovering New Zealand over summer and will start rolling out his next round of content before the month is out."

Tod said humour was "a very personal thing".