Young boy stranded after flight cancelled

By Amanda Saxton

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A 7-year-old Tauranga boy was left stranded in Auckland after his flight was cancelled because of fog.

Virgin Airlines moved the Tauranga boy on to a new flight departing two days after his original flight, cancelled because of Wednesday's heavy fog.

Malakai Vaetoru-Miles was meant to fly unaccompanied to Rarotonga on Wednesday, when fog disrupted more than 170 flights at Auckland Airport.

His mother Georgia Miles, 24, spoke to airline staff during the flight's four-hour delay.

"I spoke to three Virgin Australia employees via telephone and all three told me that yes, if the flight was cancelled accommodation would be provided."

Miles said Air New Zealand ground staff at the airport told her to make sure Virgin put a note next to Malakai's name in the booking system, to confirm accommodation vouchers would be available.

She called Virgin again to get hotel vouchers arranged when the flight was cancelled at 9pm.

"But when I told the guy that he kind of went 'Oh ... ah ... well, hold on a second' and put me on hold for 10 minutes.

"When he came back he was with a manager who said 'no, Virgin isn't offering accommodation for anybody'."

That was almost five hours after Malakai's flight was due to depart, and two hours after airport weather restrictions were lifted.

Ms Miles said cancellation and lack of accommodation were not the problem - it was the misinformation. "I'd modelled my evening on what they'd told me - then at quarter past nine at night, far from home [Tauranga], there was no accommodation and I had to start organising things.

"They've clearly got their wires seriously crossed."

She said she had considered sleeping in her car with Malakai for the two-night gap between flights because unexpected hotel costs would be too expensive.

In the end they shared a couch at an Auckland friend's house.

When the NZME first spoke with a Virgin representative on the phone, she stated that all affected passengers at the airport when flight VA175 was cancelled were given hotel accommodation.

Upon further questioning she said that in fact it was not their policy to provide accommodation for passengers struck by cancellations beyond the airline's control and her previous statement was wrong.

Many airlines, including Air New Zealand, do not cover accommodation costs if flights are cancelled because of bad weather.

Malakai is flying to Rarotonga to spend a month with his grandparents.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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