Airline said their flight had been cancelled. It wasn't
An Air New Zealand customer says his Thailand holiday was cut short after the airline wrongly said one of his flights had been cancelled.
Sean Stratton had booked to travel from Kerikeri to Phuket via Auckland and Singapore. The trip was all on an Air New Zealand ticket, but the Singapore to Phuket leg would be operated by Singapore Airlines.
Stratton, who was travelling with his wife and friends, had made the two-hour drive from their home in Pukenui, in the Far North, to Kerikeri.
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The group was celebrating the start of the holiday at a bar near the airport when, about an hour before their flight was due to depart, they received a call from Air New Zealand, telling them the flight from Singapore to Phuket had been cancelled, and they were working to make alternative arrangements.
Air New Zealand was approached for comment for this story, but an airline spokesperson would only say they "will take this up directly with the customer".
Thinking the itinerary would be sorted, the group continued on to the airport, where they were told they couldn't check in, as their flights weren't confirmed.
Stratton then received another call from Air New Zealand, giving them the option to be rebooked on flights the following day – this time with Cathay Pacific, with an overnight layover in Hong Kong. The change meant their eight-night holiday would be cut short by about 36 hours.
"I said, 'that's not ideal, is there anything else?' They were going to come back to me, and they never did."
Given they were already in Kerikeri, Stratton wanted to know whether Air New Zealand would cover their accommodation for that night, as well as for the Hong Kong layover. A check-in agent told them to go home and contact reservations.
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Not wanting to drive all the way back to Pukenui, the group found accommodation for the night. In the meantime, Stratton sat on the phone trying to get through to Air New Zealand.
He was eventually told as it was Singapore Airlines who had cancelled the flight, Air New Zealand wouldn't be responsible for additional costs incurred as a result of the change.
Frustrated, but thinking they would be able to claim on their insurance, Stratton and the group ended up booking their own accommodation for the Hong Kong layover.
The next morning, they received a text from Air New Zealand warning that due to weather conditions, their flight to Auckland may be disrupted. Not wanting to risk any further disruption, they decided to drive, and Stratton called Air New Zealand to cancel the domestic flights and request a credit.
However, he was told there would be no credit, as there was "no value attached" to the flights. Stratton argued it had cost more to book the trip from Kerikeri than if he had booked direct from Auckland, and the customer service agent eventually agreed an amount would be credited.
Upon returning to New Zealand, Stratton followed up about the flight credit – and enquired again about the possibility of reimbursing their accommodation costs.
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Stratton said he was once again told it was Singapore Airlines' responsibility, and that he should contact them for a letter proving they had cancelled the flight to show his travel insurance provider.
Stratton then contacted Singapore Airlines, which said it had no record of him travelling on the flight.
"I said, 'what do you mean travelling – the flight didn't go?' And she said, 'yes, it did.'"
Singapore Airlines confirmed to Stuff Travel the flight operated as per schedule.
Stratton went back to Air New Zealand, who looked into it again, and admitted they were wrong in saying it had been cancelled.
The customer service agent Stratton spoke to said they had arranged a credit for the domestic flights, and that he should email the airline's refunds team so they could consider reimbursement for his accommodation costs.
But Stratton said he was frustrated at Air New Zealand's refusal to help throughout the process, and that they had simply passed the buck to the partner airline – for something that turned out to be their own mistake.
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"Normally if you get bumped off a flight, they make amends by making things easy for you and offering you some kind of voucher or refund of the flight," he said.
"We never got to have that conversation, because they maintained the flight was cancelled. If they'd said 'we'll fly you to Auckland tonight, put you up overnight, and fly you to Hong Kong tomorrow, and because of the inconvenience we'll give you a $500 voucher each' – we probably wouldn't be having this conversation now.
"But they just dug their toes in and said, 'no, it's been cancelled [by another airline], it's not our problem, deal with it yourself'."
Consumer NZ campaigns manager Jessica Walker said in their view, Air New Zealand had breached the Consumer Guarantees Act by failing to provide services with reasonable care and skill.
When flights are cancelled due to something within the airline's control, consumers can claim back costs, up to a set limit, under the Montreal Convention. Under this convention, consumers could claim against either this operating carrier, or the contracting carrier.
"Given Air New Zealand advised the passenger it wasn't their responsibility to cover the costs of the change, we think they're also likely to have breached the Fair Trading Act," Walker said.
Consumer NZ continued to receive regular complaints about airlines misleading passengers about their rights under the Civil Aviation Act and Montreal Convention.
Walker said they had written to Associate Transport Minister Kiri Allan, asking her to enact regulations requiring airlines to provide better information to consumers about their rights when flights are cancelled or delayed.
This article originally appeared on Stuff and has been reproduced with permission.
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