A New Zealand woman says she is more than $23,000 out of pocket after Etihad mistakenly cancelled her family’s flights to the UK, forcing them to take out a loan and rebook with another airline without receiving a refund.
Kaiapoi, Canterbury resident Jessica Roberts said she booked seven tickets from Christchurch to London for herself, her partner and their children to attend a family wedding in September, paying a total $19,139, which included seat reservations.
Just over three months later, in July, she said she cancelled one of the child tickets via the airline’s customer service chatbot, and was told she would be refunded $2414.50. She provided new bank account details to the chatbot as she had recently switched banks.
On September 4, just three days before they were set to leave for London, Roberts logged onto the Etihad website to check the booking, only to discover it wasn’t there.
“So what had happened was the airline had cancelled by mistake, the six tickets,” she said. “So we spent the next two days frantically trying to work out what had happened, but they wouldn’t tell us anything.”
With two of their children in the wedding party, Roberts said she and her partner took out a loan to pay for new flights with another airline – an itinerary which took them via the US and therefore required them to spend an extra $217 on visas. They have also since incurred hundreds of dollars in interest on the loan, she said.
Roberts said she was lucky to have been able to book the last-minute tickets, as the Flight Centre branch they contacted was about to close when she rang.
“By the time we rang Flight Centre it was five to seven, and she said “I’d better just answer that” because she was leaving the building. We were really lucky because she did everything for us and stayed on the line and the lady from the BNZ (bank) – she was fantastic. Because we originally thought we would have to put it on the mortgage, but she was like “no, you won’t get that through in time to travel”.”
Roberts said in a letter to Etihad that the $23,707 refund she has requested “does not cover any of the emotional stress” they have endured as a result of the cancelled tickets, or the time they have taken off work to arrange a loan and new tickets.
“It does not cover the night of the 5th of September where I did not sleep, and was physically sick several times in sheer panic of what was happening, or the absolute terrifying thought that I would have to tell our children that we couldn’t go on holiday, or the thought of telling our family that we wouldn’t be coming,” she wrote.
“I cannot express the absolute devastating nature this had on our holiday. We checked our bank account every day to see if the funds had been returned and had to cancel several plans as we couldn’t afford those commitments if the refund didn’t come through with loan payments to make.”
Roberts said she had phoned Etihad at least 30 times and lodged two formal complaints, but “I just get stonewalled. Nobody’s rung us back to tell us what’s happening. They’re just ghosting us. And they give us conflicting information every time we speak to them.”
Roberts said Etihad initially told her it would launch an investigation which would take 24 hours but, 14 weeks after the tickets were cancelled, she had not learnt the outcome.
Roberts said the airline told her the tickets were cancelled due to an “agent error”, but the system she used to lodge formal complaints just says “delayed, pending refund”.
When Stuff Travel contacted Etihad about the issue, a spokesperson for the airline said its customer service team had been in touch with Roberts and the matter was being resolved.
Roberts said she had received a phone call from the airline after Stuff reached out, to say it had just received her complaint and would refund the money within the hour.
Several days later, Roberts said the airline had since told her the refund was being processed but may take another 45 days to come through.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. We have six children in the family, so are now under pressure to find funds for Christmas, and the school holidays. At this stage, it’s a real concern that we might not get this money back at all.”