Air New Zealand has announced that they will be changing policy to allow “non-offensive” visible tattoos for staff as of September this year.

CEO Christopher Luxon said today that the decision was made after seeing more acceptance of tattoos in “conversations [Air New Zealand] had with customers and [staff] domestically and overseas in the past five months“.

The airline prominently incorporates elements of Māori culture in their marketing materials and branding, but the previous policy meant that anyone with traditional tā moko would need to either cover up the tattoos or they would not be allowed to work for the airline.

The airline received criticism after telling Whangārei man Sydney Heremaia that he would not be considered for a role because of his tā moko, with the airline subsequently conducting a review into the policy. Heremaia told Radio NZ that the policy showed a “lack of integrity” from Air New Zealand. “They’re kind of saying, ‘Your culture is okay for us to have on our planes and on our uniforms but only when they’re designed specifically for the plane.’,” Heremaia said.

The airline’s CEO said that the change also reflects a broader change in attitudes towards tattoos in the general population:

We felt it was important that this change apply equally to all Air New Zealanders. We want to liberate all our staff including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms.

In conversations we’ve had with customers and our own people domestically and overseas in the past five months, it’s clear that there is growing acceptance of tattoos in New Zealand, particularly as a means of cultural and individual expression. Research indicates one in five adult New Zealanders has at least one tattoo, with more than 35 percent of under 30s tattooed.

The policy kicks in on September 1.

Image: AP / Guo qichang