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Travel happily on one ticket to ride

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So you missed a connection because the first flight of the day landed late. The four hours between flights weren't enough. So now what? Surely the airline will resolve things for you. After all, it's their fault you missed your plane, right?

Travellers booking an entire journey on a single reservation should be helped. But for those who didn't, and booked two separate flights on separate reservations, it's a different story.

It's an increasingly common situation as airlines actively encourage online booking and offer enticing internet deals.

As long as all goes to plan, it suits all parties. But if it doesn't, it's the traveller who suffers.

It's a view shared pretty much by all airlines. Their responsibility, according to individual conditions of carriage, is to get travellers to their "final" destination as close to the time published on a ticket, or contract, as possible. But terms and conditions of carriages also specify that schedules are subject to change without notice and, in some cases, don't form part of the contract.

Essentially, they must get travellers to their destination. It doesn't matter when.

To be fair, no airline wants to be late. In the United States last year, weather, air-traffic control and mechanical delays cost the industry more than $27 billion.

The total cost of late and cancelled flights and missed connections was estimated at a conservative $17 billion.

Why should a traveller suffer financially and pay for substitute flights when he or she isn't to blame? Because, according to most airlines, if they are unaware of a passenger's complete itinerary, it's not their fault.

"We can't be held responsible for arrangements made on a separate ticket," says a Singapore Airlines executive, "primarily because onward travel plans can't be viewed by our computer reservations systems."

Same story at Qantas. "Qantas has a policy of ensuring that customers who have booked their initial journey with Qantas reach their destination in the event of delays. However, Qantas is only able to consider any impact of such delays on a customer's onward journey, if Qantas is aware of the connection flight details and an agreement is in place with that carrier to link the flights."

Pauline Ray, New Zealand corporate communications manager at Cathay Pacific, says: "We cannot cover you for it when we don't know about it. You could be connecting for that matter to a train or a bus ... when you buy tickets online directly from different airlines you will have separate contracts with each airline."

According to Air New Zealand's domestic passenger rights, which also apply to international flights, if a delayed flight impacts on other flights that are part of the same ticketed journey, the airline will ensure onward travel is re-booked with as little disruption as possible. But if impacted flights aren't part of the same reservation, passengers are advised to contact their travel provider to change the arrangements. In other words, passengers will not be accommodated or compensated.

If the airlines know this is increasingly common, why don't they offer more online destination booking possibilities?

The reality is that online booking systems are limited for multi-stop itineraries.

"To maintain a fare and booking database to every possible destination throughout the world would be an enormous task which would not be practical or cost-effective," says Ray.

In one way, it works to their advantage if passengers have separate onward connections. Accommodating late arrivals on to other flights can be costly, especially when the first airline is not responsible.

So what should travellers do?

Online booking is a great tool for easy point-to-point journeys, like Auckland to Sydney.

But for complex trips involving multiple sectors, Air New Zealand's Mark Street says: "Sometimes people find it better and more convenient to use another channel." Like airline call centres or travel agents.

"Multiple international sectors increase the risk of delays and disruption due to the use of multiple aircraft, airports and potentially different carriers.

"Our recommendation when making multiple flights is to book them as through tickets (as in one booking) to ensure any impact of possible disruptions is minimised."

Street says having all onward connections protected in the event of a delay or cancellation is not the only benefit.

"It's one ticket for the entire journey, meaning that if you need to change the ticket, it's only one change required and the same terms and conditions are reflected across the entire journey.

"Many cheap domestic tickets are 'use it or lose it'."

Booking an entire trip on one reservation may cost more but, in the end, one ticket to ride may be much less stressful for travellers than two.

- Danielle Murray

- NZ Herald

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