Young boy stranded in Auckland after Virgin cancels flight

By Amanda Saxton

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

Virgin airlines bumped a 7-year-old Tauranga boy onto a flight from Auckland departing two days after his original flight - cancelled due to Wednesday's heavy fog - without any hotel compensation.

Malakai Vaetoru-Miles was meant to fly unaccompanied to Rarotonga on Wednesday, when fog caused more than 170 flight disruptions at Auckland airport.

His mother Georgia Miles, 24, was waiting at the airport for her son's flight to depart before being contacted by airline staff to say it was being delayed.

However, as she waited with her son at the airport for information on the new flight, she says airline staff gave "serious misinformation" about what they would cover if the plane was grounded when she spoke with them during the flight's four-hour delay.

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

Ms 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 vouchers for accommodation would be available.

She called Virgin again to get hotel vouchers arranged when the flight was declared 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 and that's just really unprofessional."

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 Herald 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 admitted 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 flight cancellations are due to bad weather.

Malakai is flying to Rarotonga to spend a month with his grandparents while his parents sort out their separation.

Ms Miles said she has faced inconsistency issues with Virgin before.

Last time Malakai was set to fly to Rarotonga - on Boxing Day last year - he and others were prevented from boarding because Virgin had overbooked the plane.

- NZ Herald

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