Stratton, traveling with his wife and friends, had made the two-hour drive from his home in Pukenui in the Far North to Kerikeri.
The group were celebrating the start of the holidays 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 that the flight from Singapore to Phuket had been cancelled, and they were working to make alternate arrangements.
Air New Zealand has been contacted for comment on this story, but an airline spokesperson said only that they “will discuss this directly with the customer.”
Thinking the itinerary would be arranged, the group continued on to the airport, where they were told they couldn’t check in because their flights weren’t confirmed.
Stratton then received another call from Air New Zealand, giving them the option to rebook flights the next day, this time with Cathay Pacific, with an overnight layover in Hong Kong. The change meant that his eight-night vacation would be shortened by about 36 hours.
“I said, ‘That’s not ideal, is there something else?’ They were going to come back to me, and they never did.”
Since they were already in Kerikeri, Stratton wanted to know if Air New Zealand would cover their accommodation for that night, as well as the stopover in Hong Kong. A billing agent told them to go home and contact reservations.
Not wanting to drive all the way back to Pukenui, the group found accommodation for the night. Meanwhile, Stratton sat on the phone trying to get through to Air New Zealand.
Eventually, he was told that since Singapore Airlines had canceled the flight, Air New Zealand would not be responsible for any additional costs incurred as a result of the change.
Frustrated, but thinking they could claim his insurance, Stratton and the group ended up booking their own accommodation for the layover in Hong Kong.
The next morning, they received a text from Air New Zealand warning that due to weather conditions their flight to Auckland might be disrupted. Not wanting to risk further disruption, they decided to drive and Stratton called Air New Zealand to cancel domestic flights and apply for credit.
However, he was told there would be no credit, as there was “no value attached” to the flights. Stratton argued that it had cost more to book the trip from Kerikeri than if he had booked it directly from Auckland, and the customer service agent eventually agreed that an amount would be credited.
Upon returning to New Zealand, Stratton followed up on the flight credit and inquired again about the possibility of reimbursing accommodation costs.
Stratton said he was once again told it was the responsibility of Singapore Airlines and that he should contact them to get a letter showing they had canceled the flight to show his travel insurance provider.
Stratton then contacted Singapore Airlines, which said it had no record of him being on the flight.
“I said, ‘what do you mean travel? The flight didn’t leave?’ And she said, ‘yes, she did.'”
Singapore Airlines confirmed to Stuff Travel that the flight operated as per schedule.
Stratton went back to Air New Zealand who reinvestigated it and admitted they were wrong to say it had been cancelled.
The customer service agent Stratton spoke with said they had arranged a credit for domestic flights and that she should email the airline’s refunds team so they could consider refunding her accommodation costs.
But Stratton said he was frustrated by Air New Zealand’s refusal to help throughout the process, and that they had simply passed the blame on to the partner airline, for something that turned out to be their own mistake.
“Usually if you get kicked off a flight, they make up for it by making it easy for you and offering you some kind of coupon or flight refund,” he said.
“We never got to have that conversation, because they maintained that the flight was cancelled. If they had said ‘we’ll take you to Auckland tonight, put you up overnight and take you to Hong Kong tomorrow, and because of the inconvenience we’ll give you a coupon for $500 each’ – we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
“But they just went to work and said, ‘No, it’s been canceled (by another airline), it’s not our problem, fix it yourselves.'”
Consumer NZ campaign manager Jessica Walker said that in her view Air New Zealand had breached the Consumer Guarantees Act by failing to provide services with reasonable care and skill.
When flights are canceled due to something within the airline’s control, consumers can claim reimbursement of costs, up to a set limit, under the Montreal Convention. Under this convention, consumers can claim against this operating carrier or against the contracting carrier.
“Since Air New Zealand informed the passenger that it was not their responsibility to cover the costs of the change, we believe that they are 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 the 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 canceled or delayed.