Kiwi passenger wins compensation after being stranded in Philippines for a week

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran explains why fares are rising. Video / Provided

When your ticket is canceled but you have booked through another airline, who takes care of bringing you home?

A passenger says he was asking this question when Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines left him at a Philippine airport for a week, without compensation.

Martin Smith, a scrap dealer from Auckland, said he was due to fly to Auckland on August 28 after a holiday in the Philippines. After buying his tickets on the Air New Zealand website, he went to check in on his connecting flight from Cebu airport, operated by Singapore Airlines.

However, the check-in counter was upset by his return ticket.

“They said I had a ticket but no seat, which was new to me.”

Although Smith showed up on time, he says neither he nor the check-in agent could reach Air New Zealand, which had issued the ticket.

“Finally they said I had missed my flight.”

Martin Smith spent an unplanned week without compensation in the Philippines after an airline booking error.  Photo/Martin Smith, Supplied
Martin Smith spent an unplanned week without compensation in the Philippines after an airline booking error. Photo/Martin Smith, Supplied

After spending two and a half hours trying to call Air New Zealand, he finally received a new ticket for a connecting flight to Singapore on September 11, two weeks later.

“I said ‘That’s not good enough.’ Eventually they emailed a ticket for September 4, but that was still a week later.”

But neither airline offered to cover his expenses after he was kicked off the flight.

Overbooking errors are not uncommon. Normally, they are resolved by the operating airline, which reimburses the passenger for the expenses incurred. Yet that was not the problem as the passenger ticket did not exist, the flight was full, and none of the airlines was responsible for the error.

Smith had to call his work in Auckland to explain his situation and borrow money from his son to cover accommodation.

He had travel insurance to cover these costs, but is still awaiting payment.

After filing a claim through his police, Smith was furious to read Air New Zealand’s explanation for not covering his costs.

“Unfortunately, Air New Zealand has not provided any compensation or coverage for additional passenger expenses due to this controllable disruption,” read the statement, seen by the Herald.

Having been denied the pension due to what they claim was an overbooking error, his expenses should have been covered.

But which airline should have paid for the mistake?

Instead, Smith was left without support from either of them and had to cover his expenses for an unexpected extra week in the Philippines.

‘Airlines think they’re untouchable’: A booking error left Martin Smith stranded for a week, with no airline taking responsibility. Photo/Martin Smith, Supplied

“No apologies, no accommodations, no meals, nothing offered, I was on my own.”

Codeshare and airline partnerships are meant to be a convenient way to get passengers to places beyond the normal network.

It lets you buy tickets to Europe through just one carrier, instead of two or three, even if your booking airline doesn’t have planes on those routes.

It’s a great way to save passengers time and money, except when the dots don’t meet.

It is often more difficult to make changes to flight details, such as seat selection or additional baggage for tickets booked on a partner airline. It may also mean that you cannot check in online, depending on the airline partnership.

With the Singapore – Air New Zealand partnership, online check-in is often not available – telling passengers to “check in at the airport” instead.

Any changes must be made in the terminal, which is normally not a problem.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said they had a record of Smith’s booking but could not comment on details at the airport as they were not operating the flight.

‘The ticket was issued correctly and Mr Smith should have had no problems,’ they said at the time.

As a general rule, the actual carrier must take care of the customer when he disrupts the trip.

A Singapore Airlines spokesperson said they could not comment and had to refer the issue to Air New Zealand as the ticket-issuing airline.

Singapore Airlines’ Conditions of Carriage entitle passengers to compensation if the flight is oversold or if they have been “involuntarily denied boarding”. However, since they did not have a reservation for the passenger, they could not compensate him for the delay.

Although he was able to fly to the Philippines, the return ticket was “not associated” with the booking due to a technical error and could not be honored by the airline.

Both airlines said they were investigating the matter.

“Nobody wants to take responsibility for what’s going on,” Smith says.

“The airlines seem to think they’re untouchable these days.”

The Aucklander lost a week’s wages due to his involuntary stopover in Cebu.

Earlier this year, Consumer NZ launched a petition asking airlines to be more transparent about the help available in the event of service disruptions.

“It’s time for airlines to up their game,” said Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy.

Currently, under the Civil Aviation Act, travelers are entitled to compensation for delays and cancellations for reasons beyond the airlines’ control.

This includes delays affected by issues such as staffing, operational and mechanical faults.

“We are asking airlines to communicate honestly with passengers about the reasons for flight delays and cancellations, and to be upfront about passenger rights.”

Air New Zealand responds

Air New Zealand later discovered a ticketing error on its part and therefore the passenger’s expenses were not the responsibility of the operating airline.

Air New Zealand’s investigation found the return ticket was accidentally removed from the itinerary by a consultant when the passenger called to change flights.

This was not reflected in the final itinerary which resulted in Smith being denied boarding the full Singapore Airlines flight, which had no record of his reservation.

A spokesperson for the airline said it would apologize to the customer, with a refund for his Singapore-Cebu flight, “as well as reimbursement for the extended stay in the Philippines.”

“Sometimes we make mistakes, but we try to correct them as quickly as possible. We owe Martin an apology, both for the ticketing issue and the resulting confusion, and we will pass it on to him directly.”

This story was originally published as “Codeshare Woes: Which Airline Takes Care of Passengers When Things Go Wrong?” and was reposted on September 22 to reflect the findings of the issuing airline

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