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11 July 2022

The cost of cancelling your flight if you get Covid

Consumer NZ urges airlines to remain flexible as Covid cases surge.

As the country braces for another surge in Covid cases, Air New Zealand is briefly reinstating its Covid flexibility policy for domestic and international flights.

But the policy change came too late for Ben King, who recently flew from Wellington to Invercargill to visit family and bury his deceased father’s ashes.

While in Invercargill, Ben contracted Covid. Having to isolate for seven days meant he’d miss his Air NZ flight home.

“I did the appropriate thing and looked into changing my flight or requesting a credit so I could catch a flight a week later, once my isolation period had ended.”

However, he couldn’t do this online with his ‘seat + bag’ fare, so he called Air NZ.

“After two and a half hours on hold, I finally got through to someone who explained to me that Air New Zealand had stopped their Covid-19 policy allowing people to reschedule or request credits for flights.”

That meant he would need to pay a $50 change fee and the price difference for the new flight, which was more expensive.

Ben said he was left in a difficult position.

“I had to either be naughty and break isolation and possibly infect other people, or pay a lot more. I cancelled the flight but there will be others who get Covid-19 and decide to fly anyway.”

When we contacted Air NZ last week, it confirmed it had stopped its Covid flexibility policy. However, over the weekend, it reinstated the policy until the end of this month, saying: “The airline is hearing from a large number of customers who are falling sick with Covid and other winter illnesses and can no longer travel. It is also seeing higher-than-usual employee sickness, leading to flight cancellations.”

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said: “It is great the airline is allowing customers to get credits again if they can’t fly. This means people will be more likely to do the right thing and isolate if they are unwell. But we’d like to see this extended as Covid continues to surge. We’ll be contacting the airlines to encourage them to make things easier and more certain for consumers in the current environment.”

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Meanwhile, a Sydney-based Kiwi couple who contracted Covid while visiting family in New Zealand say they felt they had no choice but to travel home during their isolation period, due to the high cost of changing their Qantas flights.

The travellers, who asked not to be named, said they called Qantas to say they both had Covid and needed to delay their flight home.

After being on hold for an hour, they said they spoke to someone who seemed disinterested in assisting them, and told them if they changed the flight it would cost an additional $800. The call then got cut off, so they called again and spoke to a different person. They again told the staff member that they both had Covid but were again told all they could do was rebook on a much more expensive ticket – paying an additional $800.

“The experience we had was that they were really not that interested in getting us on another flight when we would definitely have been Covid-free,” the man said.

The pair knew they no longer needed to show a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) for trans-Tasman flights, so chose to take their original flight.

The man’s partner said: “We were lucky our flight was delayed by a day and was also half empty – so we felt better. We weren’t symptomatic – but a lot of people would have travelled if they were, just because of the hassle.”

While there was no fee for changing flights, the new options for the couple were much more expensive and not far off what they had already paid for the original flight.

A spokesperson for Qantas said: “Not only is it extremely irresponsible to board an international flight within seven days of testing positive for Covid, it’s also a breach of New Zealand Ministry of Health and New South Wales Government isolation requirements.”

The airline also pointed out that fares purchased at the last minute are likely to cost more than those booked well in advance, but said it has waived all other fees for flight changes due to Covid-19.

“We always recommend travellers take out travel insurance before an international flight and do the right thing when they test positive for Covid abroad.”

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