Koru lounge spat: Lawyer ordered to pay $30k after travel ban dispute

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jul 2020, 5:48PM
A Nelson lawyer got into a spat over whether she and her family could use Air NZ's Koru lounge. Photo / File
A Nelson lawyer got into a spat over whether she and her family could use Air NZ's Koru lounge. Photo / File

Koru lounge spat: Lawyer ordered to pay $30k after travel ban dispute

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jul 2020, 5:48PM

A South Island lawyer has been ordered to pay Air New Zealand $30,000 after losing a court battle over her travel prohibition with the national carrier and a Koru lounge spat.

Anjela Sharma was slapped with a one-year ban by the airline and failed in her bid to quash the order when the High Court in AucklandĀ dismissed her applicationĀ for a interim injunction in February.

She alleged the ban breached the airline's contractual obligations after she had booked and paid for several flights she could later no longer use.

Now, in a decision released publicly today, Justice Paul Davison ordered her to pay $30,114 to Air NZ together with disbursements of $3657.

The dispute between Sharma, who operates an employment consultancy and litigation practice in Nelson, and Air NZ began as she was travelling from Nelson to India in December 2018 with her family.

Sharma, who put herself forward for public office with the Nelson City Council last year, said she was challenged on her family's eligibility to be in the Koru lounge, court documents read.

The Sharmas were travelling domestically from Nelson to Auckland with Air NZ, before travelling on a business class flight from Auckland to India with Singapore Airlines.

The lawyer said, on her understanding, their business class tickets entitled them to use the airline's Nelson Koru Club Lounge and were allowed in the lounge for the two hours before the flight.

But, Sharma, who along with her husband were Koru Club members, said staff later questioned why she was there.

But none of the couple's six children were club members.

Under the Koru Club policy members are allowed to invite a maximum of one guest.

A later report said Air NZ staff who dealt with Sharma found her behaviour abusive and offensive.

"The report described the applicant and members of her family as being very loud, disruptive, and intimidating during their dealings with the Lounge hostess over their entitlement to use the lounge," court documents read.

"Members of the applicant's family called the lounge hostess stupid and racist, and mocked and loudly mimicked her voice when she greeted other passengers entering the lounge."

At one point a member of the security staff was called to the lounge and offered to call police.

The report said Sharma was known to staff at Nelson Airport for "engaging in intimidating and bullying behaviour in order to get her own way every time she travelled through the
airport".

Sharma was later emailed and warned about her alleged behaviour.

The following April, she emailed former Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon arguing there was no justification for the warning letter she received.

Sharma's correspondence to the airline continued and in June 2019 she was unable to check in online for a flight the following day.

Another dispute arose when Sharma went to check in the following day and she claimed a staff member had been abusive and "on a venomous mission" against her.

"She said that although the Air New Zealand staff member had been in tears, her distress appeared to be contrived."

However, the team leader who responded to the incident said Sharma was talking in an aggressive tone, with several members of the family crowding around the distressed staff member.

"The team leader describes the applicant criticising the staff member serving her, calling the staff member as 'pathetic' and claiming that the staff member had 'put on the tears'.

The leader said Sharma's bullying behaviour was some of the most extreme she had encountered in her 24 years as an Air NZ employee.

Sharma's one-year ban was imposed on July 2 last year.

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