Travel agents are fielding calls from customers worried about the threatened strike by Air New Zealand engineers, with some passengers paying ''significant'' sums to change bookings.

Helloworld Travel said a large number of customers had contacted stores today following the announcement this morning that the strike could last for three days.

''In quite a number of cases we re-arranged customer travel plans where customers did not want to risk disruption to their holidays or Christmas family reunions,'' said the agency's general manager of marketing David Libeau.

Libeau said there was a great deal of sympathy for those booked to travel on December 21, 22 and 23 who were now subject to unnecessary stress and anxiety leading up to Christmas.


''At this stage any customers wanting to change their travel plans will need to pay any change/cancellation fees and upgraded fare costs and a number have chosen this option to provide them with certainty,'' he said.

The airline and unions, the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and E tū, are in their third day of talks and saying little about any progress.

He said that if the strike did go ahead Air New Zealand was likely to provide a range of options for customers as the disruption falls within the airline's realm of responsibility rather than an act of God.

''At Helloworld Travel we always recommend customers purchase travel insurance, as this provides cover in the event of these situations.''

However, at this stage insurance cover would not generally be provided for such things as loss of airfares, accommodation and tours until such time as the strike was confirmed to proceed, he said.

House of Travel said it is getting calls from grumpy passengers booked to travel on the three days and it is advising them to ''wait and see''.

''Our stores have been receiving calls from anxious customers since last week and this morning with the announcement of the strike potentially being extended,'' said the firm's commercial director Brent Thomas.

''At this stage our advice to customers is to wait and see what comes out of the negotiations, as difficult as it is during this delicate time as travellers are eager to know if their Christmas plans will be impacted.''

The threatened three-day strike by about 1000 engineers and logistics workers would upset the plans of tens of thousands of domestic and international passengers at the busiest travel period of the year.

Thomas said there would be severe knock-on affects for accommodation providers and

On the first day of the threatened strike 42,000 passengers are booked to fly with Air New Zealand.

The dispute hinges on changes to sick leave and the airline's proposal to reduce overtime rates for staff in return for a one-off $6400 payment.

Rival airline Jetstar said it still has some seats on domestic flights in the leadup to Christmas.

However, it can't increase flying as capacity was fully committed at this busy time of the year.

Consumer NZ said the Civil Aviation Act requires an airline to compensate passengers if a domestic flight is cancelled or delayed for reasons within its control.

Clarification is being sought from Air NZ about whether any strike would be a ''reason within its control''.

The act says compensation should include the reasonably foreseeable losses caused by the delay or cancellation, such as the cost of meals or missed connections.

It limits compensation to the actual cost of the delay, or 10 times the cost of the ticket, whichever is lower.

Air New Zealand general manager of customer experience Anita Hawthorne last night said the airline would do all it could to get passengers where they needed to be this Christmas.

"We know customers are very concerned about their travel plans at this important time of the year and unfortunately we are not in a position to provide certainty at this time,'' she said.

''We are working on contingency plans to keep our flights moving the best we can if, as a worst-case scenario, strike action should go ahead - unfortunately some disruption would be inevitable though."

At this stage no flight delays or cancellations were in place for the days of the proposed strikes.

Thomas said that at this stage if customers wanted to make any changes to an upcoming Air New Zealand booking or any other associated travel plans then they would be personally responsible for change fees and the fare difference.

"However, if the strike does go ahead and disruptions occur then it is expected that the airline has a responsibility to provide options to affected customers."

Southern Cross Travel Insurance has a cut-off time of 2.30pm on Friday, December 7 (when there was widespread reporting of the strike) for cover as a result of any strike.

If passengers with insurance bought before that time were travelling overseas, the insurer said it may also be able to cover them for the extra costs of not being able to return to New Zealand as originally planned, such as accommodation costs and the costs of changing your flights.

''If your return to New Zealand is delayed due to this event, your period of insurance will automatically be extended at no charge until you're reasonably able to return to New Zealand,'' it said.

If travellers bought a policy after the cut off time Southern Cross would not cover claims relating to this event as it was not an "Unexpected Event" under the terms of the policy.