Thursday, November 13, 2008

People or machines?

I have an apology to make. It's to the long-suffering woman who was staffing the Air New Zealand counter I went to at Wellington Airport last Wednesday. I was really rude to her, and I'm sorry.

The problem was that I'd just done battle with one of our national carrier's much-heralded new check-in machines. The computer-created pictures advertising the new regime - and regime it is - show smooth, young, fit, bland-faced men and women moving calmly around the concourse where the shining new macines cluster. As far as we can tell, none of them are disabled in any way, let alone elderly or infirm.

These perfect creatures seem to be the only kind of people the machines were designed for. They all have perfect eyesight, for a start. So the fact that some genius decided to use Air New Zealand corporate colours for the screen, resulting in hard-to-read teal blue script on a pale blue-grey background, instead of easy-to-read black on white, doesn't worry them at all.

Nor does it worry them that some people don't have credit cards, making the automated check-in process a lot more complicated. And contrary to the upbeat advance advertising, there was no one in sight to offer any help. What's more, there were great big signs forbidding you to approach the real person at the counter unless you already have your printed-out boarding pass.

I have impaired eyesight, but I do have a credit card. I peered crossly at the screen and obediently went through all the required steps, once I'd figured out where, and which way, the card was meant to be slotted in.

But although I did everything I was told, the bloody machine then told me it was unable to print out my bag tags. (Yes, you now have to put those on yourself too.)

So after all that I had to go to the counter anyway. But although the counter sign says "bag drop", the staff member standing there did not actually take my bag. I had to heave it onto the weighing thing, heave it off again, and take it way down the end to the actual baggage man.

So I got more and more ill-tempered and more and more ill-mannered. But I know none of this was the nice woman at the counter's fault, and she is quite possibly as annoyed about it as I was. So she certainly did not deserve my rudeness. I don't suppose she's reading this, but I do apologise. It was just as silly to berate her as it is to berate the hapless real person you finally reach on the phone, after endlessly wandering through the numerical wilds of Contact or Telecom.

My annoyance was compounded by the fact that right beside me, those passengers who could afford (or whose companies could afford) to belong to the Koru Club were still being dealt with by a real person, who not only checked them in but also took their bags.

Air New Zealand knows that a real person is exactly the kind of luxury the rich want and deserve. It doesn't matter what the rest want, let alone need - machines are good enough for the likes of us.

Found poem of the week

Armistice Day 2008: Lest we forget

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
John Key was tucked away in meetings.

At 11 am he was being welcomed
into his caucus to applause
and whoops of celebration
frm his victorious MPs.

Mr Key said he did not go to the service
because he was not told till late
that Miss Clark was going
after being led to believe
that she was not.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

yes they could - and they did

I never thought they would do it, but they did. Despite all the slurs and half-truths and just plain lies, the American electorate voted for hope and change in the shape of a tall thin man of 47 with an African father and a strange-sounding name. An email from our NZ friend in the States caught the international mood perfectly - its subject line was "world saved".

But the choice facing New Zealand voters is very different. Except for his age and gender, John Key could not be more different from Barack Obama. Last week I put together a shameless cover version of a far-famed US piece, and called it "What I heard John Key say". You can read it on Scoop at

See you at the polling booth on Saturday.