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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BusinessOctober 13, 2022

Did your airline refund you enough for your delayed or cancelled flight?

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Most passengers have little to no idea what they’re entitled to when their flight’s delayed or cancelled – and some airlines seem happy to keep it that way.

I booked a flight with Jetstar to fly to Japan roughly ten years ago – they charged me twice, told me my card had been declined, and then refused to issue me a ticket. The airline told me it was a “bank error” and so the long slow process of being bounced around the Jetstar call centre began, a particular type of hell that involved lots of bleak call-waiting music and being inexplicably hung up on. I eventually got my money back, but I had to publicly shame myself, appearing on the front page of the newspaper with my tale of woe, landline phone pressed to my ear while I glared angrily at the camera. 

Booking with Jetstar can feel a little like a game of roulette. For bargain prices you run the risk of holiday drama – recent news reports include a woman who had to carry her wheelchair-bound husband off a plane because there was no ramp. Jetstar responded to the complaint saying, “their operational requirements as a low fare airline mean that Jetstar is only able to provide limited specific assistance to passengers, including to passengers requiring wheelchair assistance.”  

This all leads to the question – if you pay less with a budget airline carrier, how much are you expected to endure? It’s fair to assume that most people don’t have the time and resources to set about publicly shaming their airline when they need to get their issues resolved. So if flight drama sounds familiar and you have the sneaking sense that your airline has wronged you, what do you do? 

First things first: why the cancellation or delay?

The reason your flight isn’t taking off is the key to knowing whether you can claim a reimbursement. When flights are delayed or cancelled for reasons within an airline’s control, such as overbooking, mechanical issues, or staff sickness, the airline has a responsibility to refund your flight and reimburse you for costs incurred from the cancellation or delay. 

Flight cancellations or delays out of the airline’s control include things like severe weather, natural disasters, government orders (like a pandemic lockdown), air traffic control orders or a medical emergency at the airport. 

What are you entitled to? 

For a cancellation or delay within the airline’s control you could be offered a new flight, but you don’t have to take it if it doesn’t suit your timeframe. You can opt for a refund for your flight and for any reasonable costs you’ve racked up because of its delay or cancellation. This might include a late-night booking at the only accommodation available, or a rental car to take you where you need to go could be covered by the airline. Under the Civil Aviation Act your claims are capped at ten times the cost of your ticket.

If the cancellation or delay is out of the airline’s control, the airline may offer to put you on a new flight or provide you with a credit, but your rights are limited. 

Are your flight rights the same with both Air New Zealand and Jetstar? 

Yes, they are. Air New Zealand has updated its website with advice for domestic passengers affected by delays and cancellations. At first glance, Jetstar appear to be on the front foot when it comes to reimbursement for cancellations and delays within its control, for both domestic and international flights. Jetstar’s compensation and refunds policy states it will pay up to $150 AUD/NZD reimbursement per room for accommodation costs, up to $30 reimbursement per person for meals, and pay for transfers in some circumstances when there has been a delay or cancellation within Jetstar’s control.  

If you’re stranded and racking up costs, it could seem like Jetstar is offering a fair deal – that’s the impression the company creates. However, under the Civil Aviation Act, Jetstar could be liable for more than the arbitrary cap it has imposed on costs. Jetstar still needs to cover all reasonable expenses related to accommodation, rental car hire, and other additional costs if they are the result of the cancellation or delay.  

What about international flights?

If you’re travelling internationally and the airline is at fault for a cancellation or delay, you’re entitled to reimbursement of your airfare and others costs (up to a limit) under the Montreal Convention if you’re flying between two signatory countries (and it’s highly likely you are as 135 countries have signed up to the convention).

How do you ensure the airline meets its obligations?

My advice is to push your airline for the reason for your flight disruption and then assert your rights as a passenger. You may find yourself in call-waiting hell but you should not have to go to extreme lengths (like appearing on the front page of a newspaper) just to reach an outcome to which you’re legally entitled.

Whether being denied your due reimbursement is simply a case of misinformed ground or call-centre staff or a more deliberate move by an airline to save money, the rights of those experiencing flight woes are clear.  And some airlines still have some progress to make when it comes to ensuring passengers know – and receive – exactly what they’re due.  

Consumer NZ has a petition calling for airlines to provide passengers with clear information regarding their rights in the case of delayed or cancelled flights; and to ensure passengers are fully reimbursed according to those rights.

Keep going!