A British student studying in New Zealand was stranded in Auckland after a travel booking did not allow her enough time to transfer to a flight home.
Sophie Bagot Jewitt, 21, is studying geography at the University of Otago and had booked a flight back to the UK, departing on June 22, after being away from her home for two and a half years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her sister Emma used Expedia’s website to book the flights.
Emma entered the required itinerary and dates, from Dunedin to London and back, and Expedia offered a combination of flights. The trip involved Sophie catching an Air New Zealand flight from Dunedin to Auckland and then a British Airways flight to Heathrow via Qatar.
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The total cost of the flights was $3574.
The domestic flight was scheduled to land at Auckland Domestic Terminal at 5.05pm. Your flight to London was due to leave the international terminal at 6.25pm.
That left her just an hour and 20 minutes to get from the domestic terminal to the international terminal.
Auckland Airport recommends allowing two to three hours for those transferring from a domestic flight to an international flight on a different airline than the domestic one.
Coincidentally, Sophie’s flight from Dunedin was 35 minutes late and she missed her flight home.
When Sophie was left stranded in Auckland, her mother Cozy and sister Emma, who live in England, spent hours trying to get someone on Expedia to talk to.
“If we were lucky enough to get hold of someone, they would cut us off as soon as the conversation got difficult,” Cozy Bagot Jewitt said.
She reached someone at British Airways who offered a flight on July 9th and suggested she go back to Expedia as it was to blame for exceeding the minimum connection time.
Finally, Cozy turned to the Flight Center in Auckland.
“They couldn’t have tried harder to help and found a return flight via the US costing just over $9000 on July 26th. The agent assured us that Expedia was liable,” Cozy said.
Sophie stayed in Auckland for four days, during which time Cozy took on Expedia.
When she was finally able to get in touch with an Expedia representative on July 6, Cozy Bagot explained the situation to Jewitt, enclosing receipts for the cost of the new flights, as well as the accommodation and replacement train tickets Sophie needed because of the delay.
The total cost was more than $13,000.
Cozy was told Expedia’s position is that it acts as a “third-party agent” for travel suppliers such as British Airways and “is not liable for any refunds as a result of the travel suppliers’ actions”.
Cozy was also informed that Expedia had contacted British Airways about the possibility of a refund and had been told the airline would refund the $3574 in airfare, but no more. Expedia told Cozy that they could expect an update on British Airways’ refunds within six to eight weeks.
“We just couldn’t really believe that Expedia was brushing the matter off like that. Emma chose Expedia because it was a reputable brand. There were cheaper options, but ironically we thought Expedia would be more reliable,” Cozy said.
“We, like most people living outside of New Zealand, I don’t think have any idea of the distance between the domestic and international terminals in Auckland or the recommended minimum connection time. These are things that you think Expedia would know about and take into account when booking,” she said.
Cozy also contacted Sophie’s travel insurer, Allianz Partners. The company told her it wouldn’t pay because the recommended transit time in Auckland is three hours and “as you missed your connecting flight due to insufficient layover time, we cannot reimburse you for the additional costs incurred”.
Sophie returned to New Zealand on July 18th.
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Cozy is considering her legal options to request a refund from Expedia. In the meantime, she advises anyone using the company to be aware that it books customers on flights without considering the minimum recommended transit times.
“Our family will definitely never use Expedia again,” she said.
Expedia spokeswoman Sarah King said: “We regret that Ms Bagot Jewitt’s travel plans have been disrupted and our customer service team is reaching out to her directly for a refund of the total cost incurred.
“At Expedia, we only display flights where our airline partners have found the connection and layover times to be reasonable. In the event that disruption occurs and a traveler misses their connecting flight, we advise travelers to contact the airline directly to be rebooked on the next available flight and to arrange accommodation if necessary,” King said.