Flight attendants criticise sentence

A Dunedin woman who bit one flight attendant and kicked another in the testicles should have been given a prison sentence for her ''horrific outburst'', a flight attendant union says.

Tara Anne MacKay (28), also known as Tara Anne Laidler, was sentenced in the Dunedin District Court this week to 300 hours' community work and 12 months' supervision and counselling.

That sentence was for a drunken rampage on an Air New Zealand flight to Bali with her partner last year.

MacKay, who was not at her home yesterday, admitted biting a female flight attendant, leaving her with a suspected hairline fracture, while kicking a male attendant forcibly in the testicles.

Flight Attendants and Related Services (NZ) Association Inc general secretary Peter Bentley, of Auckland, said the incident was not an isolated one. However, most were ''near misses''.

''It is not an isolated incident but the degree of harm this person brought is definitely isolated.

''Most of the time crew are really good at deflating the situation through talking with the people,'' the former flight services manager said.

Passengers consuming their own duty-free alcohol when staff were not looking happened regularly, and was difficult for flight attendants to monitor.

Mr Bentley said he had had only one incident involving alcohol while flying, when he was ''faced off'' by a passenger after the plane ran out of beer.

''He got a bit uppity about it, but it was just a matter of talking common sense.''

He suspected the woman may not have flown much, and was not aware of the effects of alcohol being exacerbated while flying.

Mr Bentley said he was not happy with the community work sentence handed down as ''that was a pretty horrific outburst''.

A prison sentence would have been a deterrent to others, he said.

''There needs to be a message sent to remind people that the constraints of being up there [in the air] puts all of those passengers' safety in jeopardy.

The union, which represents 1900 flight attendants, was ''very disappointed with the incident and we hope it never happens again''.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline welcomed the sentence, but declined to comment on specific security processes.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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