Air New Zealand crew take sign language sky-high for New Zealand Sign Language Week

Air New Zealand is proving New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) can be used anywhere in Aotearoa - even 35,000 feet in the air.
6 May 2024

Air New Zealand is proving New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) can be used anywhere in Aotearoa - even 35,000 feet in the air.

In a world-first to mark the beginning of NZSL Week, which runs from 6-12 May, the airline today operated a flight where cabin crew used NZSL to communicate with customers, including signing the inflight passenger announcements and onboard service offerings.

Customers on NZ421 from Auckland to Wellington were encouraged to give NZSL a go, with illustration cards featuring signs for popular inflight items like "water", "cookie" and "lolly" placed on seats. The five flight attendants operating the flight all had at least a basic knowledge of NZSL.

The initiative was led by Air New Zealand's Enable Network, an internal group supporting employees who have a personal disability or care for someone with a disability. Air New Zealand Senior Aircraft Programmes Manager and Enable Network Lead, Ed Collett, said the airline had been working hard to enable more employees to use NZSL.

"We're thrilled we could support NZSL Week and recognise its importance as an official language of Aotearoa by encouraging our crew to show their signing skills on this flight.

"Last year, we worked with Deaf Aotearoa to create an NZSL training module for our people, giving them the opportunity to learn 30 travel-related signs.

"It's been hugely popular, with around 400 Air New Zealanders completing it. Customers can look out for crew wearing the special NZSL Supporter lapel pin, which indicates the wearer has started their NZSL journey."

Around 30 customers onboard the flight were travelling to Wellington to attend the NZSL Awards hosted at Parliament.

NZSL Week ambassador Jon Tai-Rakena, who was among them, said the initiative was a great step towards better inclusion for the Deaf community.

"I love to fly and go to new places, but travelling as a Deaf person can feel isolating at times. This flight demonstrates a level of inclusion that makes Deaf people feel seen and welcomed onboard. It was exciting to be part of it and I hope there will be more NZSL in the sky and on the ground as Kiwis start to adopt more of our beautiful language."

Deaf Aotearoa Chief Executive Lachlan Keating, who was also onboard the flight, said it was great to see so many Air New Zealand crew and customers using NZSL.

"This year's theme for NZSL Week is 'an Aotearoa where anyone can sign anywhere', and there was no better example of this than on NZ421 today.

"The more Kiwis incorporate NZSL into their everyday lives, the more inclusive our society is for our Deaf community."

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Note to editors: Click here for images and b-roll footage from the flight

Issued by Air New Zealand Communications

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About Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand's story started in 1940, first taking to the skies between Auckland and Sydney on a flying boat - a Short S30. Known for its warm Kiwi hospitality, today, the airline has 104 operating aircraft ranging from Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and Airbus A320s to ATRs and Q300s, offering customers comfort in the latest most efficient jets and turboprops. It's a modern fuel-efficient fleet with an average age of 7.3 years. Air New Zealand's global network of passenger and cargo services centres around New Zealand. Pre-Covid, the airline flew more than 17 million passengers every year, with 3,400 flights per week. Air New Zealand was recently named the World's Safest Airline by the Australian rating service, highlighting the airline's laser-focus on safety. Last year, Air New Zealand won Best Corporate Reputation in New Zealand – 8th year in a row.

Air New Zealand has a well-connected domestic business, connecting customers and cargo to 20 different regions around New Zealand. Internationally, the airline has direct flights to major cities across Australia, Asia, the Pacific Islands and the US, and through its strong relationships with alliance partners, offers customers more choice and convenience to connect further afield to hundreds of destinations. Air New Zealand has a particular focus on sustainability and its Sustainability Framework  helps guide the airline's efforts in tackling some of New Zealand's and the world's most complex challenges. Air New Zealand aircraft are proudly identified by its distinct tail livery of the Mangōpare, the Māori symbol of the hammerhead shark which represents strength, tenacity, and resilience.


About Star Alliance

Air New Zealand is proud to be a member of Star Alliance. The Star Alliance network was established in 1997 as the first truly global airline alliance to offer worldwide reach, recognition and seamless service to the international traveller. Its acceptance by the market has been recognized by numerous awards, including the Air Transport World Market Leadership Award and Best Airline Alliance by both Business Traveller Magazine and Skytrax. The member airlines are: Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, THAI and United. Overall, the Star Alliance network currently offers more than 18,500 daily flights to 1,321 airports in 193 countries.