Passenger who booked flight months in advance upset at being bumped

Kaitlin Ruddock
Source: Fair Go

Passengers are feeling powerless after finding out airlines can bump them off seats to make room for other travellers without warning.

Auckland woman Kylee Davis booked a trip to Queenstown back in April, in advance of the school holidays.

But when she arrived at the airport for her Air New Zealand flight on July 10, she discovered she had been bumped off it in order to make room for other passengers from another flight that had been cancelled.

She says staff told her she was placed on stand by because she had paid a cheaper fare. She was given a $100 travel voucher and assured she would still make it to Queenstown that day.

But that didn’t happen. She missed out on the next flights and then learned there were no direct flights for the next four days.

"Why are you penalised for being organised?" Kylee told Fair Go.

"It's made us think of that next time, the September holidays, do we wait until the last minute so we know we will get on that flight?"

Davis eventually found a flight to Invercargill for her and her son and flew out the next day which cost an extra $850 and required her husband (a Koru member who was not bumped from the flight) to make a five-hour return trip from Queenstown to pick them up.

Under the Civil Aviation Act, customers are entitled to compensation of up to 10 times the price of their ticket, or the actual cost of delay, whichever is lower. This excludes if it was due to poor weather conditions, Government orders or air traffic control instructions.

Consumer NZ’s Gemma Rasmussen explained why airlines pick on people in the cheap seats.

"The more expensive the flight you're bumped off, the more they might have to pay you."

She says it’s key for passengers to get an understanding of why they've been bumped off the flight and then they can know whether they are actually entitled to a refund.

Consumer NZ says that, while there's no definition of what events are considered within an airline’s control, it would include things like mechanical issues, staffing, scheduling and overbooking.

However, airlines aren't liable if it’s a case of bad weather, air traffic control directions, government orders like Covid restrictions, major events like an earthquake or volcanic eruption or a medical emergency

Air New Zealand told Fair Go it doesn't deliberately overbook or oversell flights.

Chief customer sales and officer Leanne Geraghty explained that the Davis family’s flight was over capacity because it needed to carry passengers from an earlier flight that'd been disrupted by crew illness.

"We’re sorry for the disruption to the Davis family’s travel. Unfortunately, it was on one of Air New Zealand’s busiest weekends since pre-Covid and our flights were extremely full.

"Due to short staffing at the airport and long call wait times in our contact centre, Kylee made her own rebooking and paid a higher fare than would have been the case if we had completed the booking for her."

When Davis complained to Air New Zealand, the airline credited her for her original flight, but not the extra expenses. After Fair Go raised the matter with Air New Zealand, the company took another look at her case and has now offered to cover the extra costs involved with getting to Queenstown via Invercargill.

Air New Zealand’s overbooking and denied boarding policy outlines a range of factors it considers when rebooking people onto different flights after a cancellation or disruption.

These include:

• Whether passengers are heading to an international flight

• If they have special assistance requirements

• Their medical status

• Whether families are travelling together

• If the passenger is an unaccompanied minor

• Fare type and loyalty status

• If the passenger is an unaccompanied minor

• Fare type and loyalty status