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23 February 2023

Consumer NZ: Our Cook Strait ferry operators need to up their game

Consumer NZ is calling out our Cook Strait ferry operators for their customer service failures.

“Many people across the country continue to experience travel woes,” said Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ chief executive.

“From delayed and cancelled flights to ferry breakdowns leaving people stranded on the wrong island – we want to help New Zealanders stand up for their rights.”

Cook Strait crossing woes

With a significant number of sailings cancelled for mechanical reasons, impacted passengers have been provided with refunds but no means of getting to their destination. Many New Zealanders have been stranded or left out of pocket from making alternative travel arrangements.

Despite the ferry companies claiming they’re not liable for passengers’ losses, Consumer NZ believes impacted passengers can claim back losses under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA).

Under the CGA service providers, like Interislander and Bluebridge, must provide their services using reasonable care and skill – and those services must be fit for purpose.

“Mechanical failures or overbooking issues are within the control of transport providers,” Duffy said.

“Most passengers can cope with minor delays, but it is reasonable to expect professional transport operators will get passengers to their destination within a time period close to that promised at the point the ticket is sold.

“Leaving passengers on the wrong island with no means of getting to their intended destination is not providing a service with reasonable care and skill – and it is definitely not a fit-for-purpose service.”

Under the CGA, people with disrupted travel plans can ask for a refund and claim any reasonably foreseeable losses that result from the disruption. For example, it would be reasonably foreseeable that a cancelled ferry will result in some passengers having to pay for a night’s accommodation, so they can claim back these costs.

“In our view people should not be left out of pocket because of a ferry cancellation or significant delay.

“When you are incurring additional costs for accommodation or alternative transport – you are entitled to claim those costs back.

“Travel providers can’t shirk their obligations to consumers– regardless of what their terms and conditions say.”

Businesses can’t contract out of the CGA and they risk breaching the Fair Trading Act if they try.

“Unless Interislander and Bluebridge can prove mechanical faults are beyond human control – we say impacted passengers are covered by the CGA.”

The CGA does not provide remedies for passengers with sailings disrupted by the weather – as the weather is outside the travel operators’ control.

“In the case of weather disrupted sailings – we think disrupted passengers should be entitled to request a refund if an alternative sailing does not suit them.”

Consumer NZ advises that passengers impacted by a ferry’s mechanical failure can contact the provider directly and request a refund and reimbursement of reasonably foreseeable costs incurred because of the disruption.

“You should keep receipts for any costs you incur so you can submit this with your claim for reimbursement.”

If the travel operator refuses your request, you can file a claim at the Disputes Tribunal .

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