A British visitor is blaming Air New Zealand for refusing to let her board a flight to return to England for her father's funeral.
Heather Hearne, 61, said she was turned away from an Air NZ flight from Auckland to Sydney on Saturday because counter staff believed Dubai Airport was closed, so she would not be able to catch a connecting Emirates flight from Sydney via Dubai to London.
She now looks likely to miss the May 29 funeral of her father Jack Biggins, who died of coronavirus in an Ipswich rest home, aged 88.
Dubai Airport was closed to passengers on March 25, but reopened on May 21.
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But an Air NZ spokesman said the airline barred her from the flight because the Australian Border Force had not given her approval to transit through Sydney.
"Because the Air NZ and Emirates tickets were booked separately, she had to 'self-transit' at Sydney. That requires our team to gain approval from the Australian Border Force. That approval was sought prior to check in closing but was denied," he said.
"We offered to transfer her free of charge to the next service to Sydney. However, we understand that Emirates would not transfer her to their next flight without a fee."
Hearne said Air NZ later refunded her Auckland-Sydney fare but then tried to sell her a business-class seat on an Air NZ flight from Auckland to London on Tuesday for $5300.
She has refused to pay because she had already paid $5000 for a first-class seat on Emirates from Sydney to London.
"So not only have they stopped me from being able to get to my dad's funeral, they now want to profit from the situation by making me pay for extra flights," she said.
"It's totally disgusting, especially as I thought this was a time Jacinda Ardern has asked us all to be kind."
Hearne, a dual New Zealand and British citizen, is now living in Britain but came to New Zealand to visit her daughter and 3-year-old twin grandchildren in January.
She originally planned to fly home on Emirates from Auckland to London in April but that flight was cancelled because of the pandemic.
Her father died at the end of April and Hearne, one of his four daughters, wanted to get home to support her mother Betty Biggins, who is also 88.
She got a seat on one of the first Emirates flights from Sydney to London after Dubai reopened, booked her connecting flight with Air NZ, and rang the Australian Border Force to make sure she could transit through Sydney.
"I rang the Border Force and she said that as long as I have a New Zealand passport and I'm leaving from the same airport and leaving within 72 hours, no problem," she said.
She received a text from Air NZ on Friday asking her to check in at least two hours before her flight, as usual.
But when she arrived at Auckland Airport on Saturday in good time for her 9am flight, she found a "chaotic" scene.
"Two flights were booked to go out at 9am and there was one queue for both flights," she said.
"It was clear that there was not enough staff to process all passengers, due to the extensive checks required prior to confirming the booking. Each check-in was taking around 20 minutes.
"I was in the check-in line for two hours, and when I finally got to the counter, the flight time was getting close. I enquired about this and they said not to worry as 'everyone was in the same situation' – implying the flight would wait.
"My bags were checked in and I was then told by another member of Air NZ staff that I was unable to fly because their software said that Dubai Airport was closed and so my Emirates flight wouldn't be going ahead.
"By the time they acknowledged that the software was wrong and my Emirates flight was going ahead, the flight had closed and there were no more available to make my connection in Australia."
She said she was told three separate stories about why she couldn't board the flight.
"The first reason was that they were concerned about the transiting [through Sydney] because generally a connecting flight is all on one ticket. I couldn't get a ticket all in one because Emirates is not flying to New Zealand," she said.
She said she told the three counter staff that the Australian Border Force had told her she could transit through Sydney despite this, and a different staff member then told her that she couldn't fly because there were no flights to Dubai.
"They said, 'ring Emirates'. So I rang Emirates and she [the Air NZ staffer] spoke to the Emirates guy and he said no, the flights are fine as long as she has a British passport.
"Then they started saying it was a 'repatriation' flight and I should have had paperwork from Emirates for it.
"Also, it was because their computer was telling them something wrong and they can only follow their systems."
Hearne said she heard other people "in tears and very upset" over missing flights.
"Someone else was in the queue behind me and had every document in order, but by the time the staff had got to him to check him in, he was told the flight was closed," she said.
"There were lots of sad stories and some Air NZ staff seemed quite indifferent and others flustered."
Hearne said she had booked a first-class seat on Emirates because she wanted as much distance from other passengers as possible to minimise the risk of infecting her mother with coronavirus when she returns to Ipswich.
Betty and Jack Biggins met as 15-year-olds, married at 18 and would have celebrated 70 years of marriage in October this year.