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23 December 2021

What to do if your flight is cancelled this holiday season

Airlines have to fork out compensation if it’s their fault you’re not flying.

If you have the unfortunate experience of your flight being delayed or cancelled these holidays, take comfort knowing your airline has to compensate you if it’s responsible.

When the airline’s at fault, the Civil Aviation Act (CAA) says you’re entitled to compensation of up to 10 times the cost of the ticket, or the actual cost of delay, whichever is lower. You don’t have to accept credit if you’d prefer a refund. If the airline says the disruption was out of its control, it needs to prove it.

If the airline won’t budge, consider taking your case to the Disputes Tribunal. That’s what director Nigel Keats recently did on behalf of his company Connectworks.

Keats and a colleague had been due to fly from Auckland to Wellington. Jetstar sent them text messages at 2.42am letting them know their flight had been cancelled due to engineering issues. Jetstar refunded their tickets but refused to compensate the extra they had to pay to book new flights with Air New Zealand to make it to their meeting.

At the tribunal hearing, Jetstar pointed to a clause in its terms and conditions that states “we will not be responsible for paying any costs or expenses you may incur as a result of the changed time or cancellation”. The tribunal referee said this term was “of no effect” because of CAA rules requiring airlines to compensate passengers for cancellations or delays within their control. Connectworks was awarded $479.60 for the extra they paid to book new flights.

Keats said Jetstar had been willing to pay the compensation once he made an application to the Disputes Tribunal, but he refused. He wanted it to go to a hearing so others would understand what their rights are.

“They try to deny all liability and delay and confuse people about it but when you go through the process, legally they don’t have a leg to stand on,” Keats said.

In an email to us, Jetstar said the refusal to compensate Connectworks had been an error by a member of the contact centre and staff had been given training.

Air New Zealand told us 3 percent of its scheduled flights had been cancelled this year for reasons within its control and 11 percent had been cancelled for reasons outside its control.

A spokesperson said "if a flight is cancelled for circumstances within Air New Zealand’s control, we will work with the customer to agree one of the following solutions: accommodate the customer onto an alternate Air New Zealand flight, or refund the unused flight upon request from the customer, or, in some circumstances, we may be able to secure travel for the customer on an alternative airline at no additional charge to the customer.”

If an airline cancels a flight for reasons outside its control, such as bad weather or Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s a different story. The CAA doesn’t require the airline to provide compensation in these circumstances and you’ll only be entitled to a refund if you purchased a refundable fare.

If not, the airline will usually rebook you on another flight or offer you a credit.

In Europe, passengers are entitled to refunds whenever their flights are cancelled. They’re also entitled to better protections in the case of flight delays. We’re calling for similar protections for Kiwi consumers.

A new Civil Aviation Bill is currently before parliament but does not address these issues. In our latest submission, we’ve asked the committee to reconsider its stance before the bill becomes law.

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