If I'm working as self employed, traveling on airlines and rating their flights and customer service and being paid by that airline, will I need a work visa for USA and other countries. EG flying AIR New Zealand, from Auckland to LAX rating the customer service and flight and also the check-in on customer service on return flight. Can you get away with this as research?
Technically, B-1 (or VW equivalent) might work if you are not paid by the US source. Properly collected documents, such as your company established in NZ, business agreements between AIR NZ and your company, traceable funds (bank statements in NZ, showing payment in NZ currency) will help you to establish your case. However, the situation is somewhere on the edge, so I would speak with a lawyer, and ask the lawyer to create a documentation package for you, and draft a letter to the head of the port of entry, explaining why B-1 is a legal visa in your case. As rightfully noted by @SheikPaul, you will be stopped and questioned after a few trips in and out of the country in a short period of time. And you have to be prepared to explain.
Possibly, B1 in lieu of H1B is an appropriate visa for you. But you have to use professional help to prepare for an interview for such a visa.
If you are paid by an airline, but not an employee, aren't they supposed to check your work permits before awarding you a contract? The story sounds fishy to me.