Air New Zealand is standing by its policy of not allowing visible tattoos on customer service staff after an internal review.

The airline's policy came under scrutiny when Claire Nathan was dismissed from an interview for a hostess position in January because she had a Maori motif on her forearm.

Air New Zealand was criticised as hypocritical for the move because it carries a koru in its logo and has used heavily tattooed celebrities, such as pop singer Gin Wigmore and the All Blacks, in advertising campaigns.

But cultural development manager Andrew Baker said today the airline carried more than five million customers internationally each year and it was important they felt as comfortable as possible when flying with the national carrier.


"The reality is that many of our international customers, particularly on Asian services, would not feel comfortable interacting with staff with visible tattoos in the close confines of the aircraft cabin environment - regardless of whether the tattoos are considered to be cultural or otherwise.

"We have thoroughly reviewed this issue as well as noted the positions and comments from other airlines in our region that have similar policies to ours. These include Virgin Australia, Qantas, Hawaiian Airlines, and Jetstar.''

Mr Baker said no matter how comfortable New Zealanders were with tattoos, the company must acknowledge the concerns of all customers.

It did not have the same restriction on the display of visible tattoos in non-customer facing roles, he said.

When the airline's policy was made public last month, Prime Minister John Key weighed into the debate and said he was surprised at the company's attitude.

Mr Key, who is also Minister for Tourism, disagreed with the airline's argument that it could put off tourists.

"It would be a problem if it did because a lot of the Maori events they go to, there's lots of tattoos,'' he said.