Book an international flight with most airlines and you can select your own seat, if you’re prepared to pay extra. But when Consumer member Susan booked a holiday to London through Flight Centre, the $200 extra she paid for her seat of choice didn’t get her anything.

Susan is not in the best of health. She asked her local Flight Centre office to book her an aisle seat for the trip. Susan had a stroke about two years ago, which means it’s better if she can walk around during long flights to reduce the risk of blood clots. An aisle seat made this easier.

Flight Centre added $200 to its fee to book the seat Susan wanted. Susan booked six months in advance to avoid any problems. But when she rang the airline to confirm the flight details a couple of days before she was due to depart, she was told the seat hadn’t been selected and wasn’t available. The airline told her she’d have to sort it out with Flight Centre.

Susan says she went back to Flight Centre only to be told the company couldn’t do anything. “They didn’t apologise and didn’t offer a refund either,” Susan told us. At this stage, Susan had no choice but to rely on the airline to find her an aisle seat for the long-haul flight, which it eventually did.

When we contacted Flight Centre, the company offered an apology to Susan for the inconvenience and stress she suffered, and a refund of the $200. After looking into the matter, Flight Centre’s James Sanders said its usual high standards of service were not met in Susan’s case.

The company said it can request a specific seat on behalf of a customer (although final seating is decided by the airline) but “in this instance we failed to meet the needs of our customer”.

Legal points

Like other service providers, travel agents have to provide their services with reasonable care and skill. If they take money for a particular service – such as booking you an aisle seat – and don’t provide the service you’re entitled to your money back.

The Consumer Guarantees Act also gives you the right to claim consequential losses for any additional expense you’ve incurred as a result of the travel agent’s failure to provide their services with reasonable care and skill.