A threatened strike by Air New Zealand engineers days before Christmas has thrown the holiday plans of thousands up in the air with many choosing to fork out extra to change their bookings.

While mediation is ongoing, the workers have decided to strike for three days from December 21.

This period spans three of the busiest days in the airline annual calendar. On December 21 alone, Air New Zealand has close to 42,000 customers booked to travel domestically on its A320 jets and internationally faced potential flight cancellations.

Since yesterday's announcement travel agents have been fielding calls from worried customers, some passengers paying ''significant'' sums to change bookings.

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If no resolution is found the strike would run for three days from December 21. Photo / Getty Images
If no resolution is found the strike would run for three days from December 21. Photo / Getty Images

''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,'' Helloworld Travel general manager of marketing David 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, he said.

''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."

The airline and unions, the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and E tū, have been in talks since Monday but are saying little about any progress.

Libeau 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.''

The strike would affect tens of thousands of travellers. Photo / Mark Harkin
The strike would affect tens of thousands of travellers. Photo / Mark Harkin

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 commercial director Brent Thomas said the company was getting calls from grumpy passengers booked to travel on the three days and it was advising them to ''wait and see''.

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.

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 had some seats on domestic flights in the lead-up to Christmas.

Air New Zealand engineers have voted to strike for three days from December 21. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Air New Zealand engineers have voted to strike for three days from December 21. Photo / Jason Oxenham

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

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

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

The act said 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 said this week 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.

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.

Kiwi husband worried he'll miss his London-based wife for Christmas

A Kiwi husband planning to fly to London to be with his wife over Christmas is one of those whose travel plans could be thrown into disarray.

The threatened three-day strike by about 1000 engineers and logistics workers from December 21 is making for tens of thousands of nervous Kiwis in the lead-up to Christmas.

Auckland software business development manager John Tattersall has a flight booked to London on the evening of December 23.

John Tattersall plans to fly to London on December 23 to see his wife who is working there. Photo / Greg Bowker
John Tattersall plans to fly to London on December 23 to see his wife who is working there. Photo / Greg Bowker

His plan was to spend Christmas in London with his wife, who is working there for six months, before spending several weeks travelling around Europe.

But due to the threatened strikes their travel plans were all up in the air.

"I've had not contact from Air New Zealand about it, I've only seen what's in the press.

"It certainly destroys any excitement building up to it if you don't know if you are going to be going or not."

He could not leave before the 23rd due to prior commitments, and leaving after would mean he'd miss Christmas there.

"The whole point of going then was to be able to spend Christmas with my wife. It is the middle of winter over there, it would be nice to spend Christmas together."

John Tattersall said it was
John Tattersall said it was "unacceptable" the union and Air New Zealand management had let this happen. Photo / Greg Bowker

Tattersall said he blamed both Air NZ executive and the union, and urged them to come to a solution.

"I am pretty angry. To do it at this time of year is disingenuous, and the fact both parties have allowed it to happen is unacceptable to the New Zealand travelling public.

"Air NZ is an iconic business that is majority owned by the taxpayer and is recognised as a world leader in the airline business. I cannot believe the Government is not sorting it out.

"This is pretty high profile."

If he was forced to miss his flight due to the proposed strike he said he would look into what legal options were available.

Dozens of potentially-affected travellers have contacted the Herald concerned about their Christmas plans.

One person said the proposed strike was throwing a week-long Trans-Tasman family reunion from December 21 up in the air.

"There are nine of us caught up in this, six travelling from Australia and three from Auckland.

"The Australian side cancelled their Air New Zealand flights today and booked with Virgin, and are extremely pissed off."

An Auckland family of four were planning to travel to Sydney on December 23 for Christmas.

"We chose Air New Zealand as they are our airline and can always be trusted to get us to where we need to go on time," the father said.

"The union and these engineers need to have a real look in the mirror when they make a decision like this, this affects people's lives."

The whole extended family was coming together for the first time in six years to celebrate Christmas in the home of his 82-year-old mother, who had been planning all year for the occasion.

"I haven't told her yet as she is a worrier and at 82 I don't think she needs this.

"I understand that workers and unions want the best possible conditions of employment but get your point across in another way.

"Thanks for potentially ruining our Christmas."

Strike threatened: all you need to know

What is going on?

About 1000 Air New Zealand engineers and logistics workers have voted to strike based on a dispute around changes to sick leave and the airline's proposal to reduce overtime rates for staff in return for a one-off $6400 payment.

When could the strike take place?

The workers voted to strike for three days from December 21 - three of the year's busiest air travel days. On the first day of the threatened strike 42,000 passengers are booked to fly with Air New Zealand.

What flights will be affected?

The strike could affect all domestic and international Air New Zealand flights on those days.

Has anything been decided for certain?

At this stage no flight delays or cancellations are in place for the days of the proposed strikes. The union and executive are into their fourth day of negotiations. Air New Zealand said this week airline would do all it could to get passengers where they needed to be this Christmas.

If my flight is cancelled, will I get compensation?

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, however it is unclear if a strike falls into that category. Insurers have said travellers who purchased their insurance polices before Friday, December 7, when there was widespread reporting of the strike, would likely be covered.