An Auckland man says he and his family are devastated after a connecting flight for a trip home was cancelled without his knowledge.

Muhammad Khayam says he would have been able to rebook their flights if they had been alerted to the change by either the airline, China Southern, or travel agent, Eco Travels, when it was cancelled in early March.

Instead, he found out only in June after hearing friends on similar flights were having changes made, prompting him to check the status of his travel arrangements.

The price of flights has since doubled, but he and his family are still desperate to get back to Lahore to celebrate the Muslim festival Eid ul Adha and their children's birthdays.


While China Southern have since offered a refund of the $3650 ticket, he couldn't afford to pay the extra $4500 to fly at the same time in August.

He has since lodged a claim with the Disputes Tribunal which will be heard on August 5, just three days before the family had hoped to fly out.

He's annoyed that neither the agent or the airline alerted him to the cancellation.

"I discover the flight was actually cancelled 10 days after the purchase of the ticket ... so no one informed me and when we asked them, they tell me it's a change of schedule. And they didn't inform me of that.

"When I talk to the airline they tell me it's the booking agent who should inform me, but when I speak to the booking agent he tells me it's normally the airline who directly send the email to the customer."

Discussions have since reached a standstill and Khayam, together with his wife, Farah Sarwar, 30, and their two children, Sereen, 3, and 10-month-old Hareem, is still hopeful of getting home in time for the celebrations.

The family did not have travel insurance.

But Eco Travels manager Rinku Singh said the company wasn't to blame because it never heard from China Southern Airlines that the flight had been cancelled.


"The mistake was actually from the airline ... because of [the client] only we came to know because we were not aware," she said.

"If there is ever any schedule change the airline always sends it to the customer so he didn't get the email from the airline, and neither us, so that was the thing.

"The airline didn't inform us. The airline has made the mistake yet we are the ones who are suffering."

The family had been offered a refund, but they had refused it, she said.

A China Southern Dreamliner aircraft lands at Auckland Airport. The company said it was up to the travel agent to inform the family their flight had been cancelled. Photo / File
A China Southern Dreamliner aircraft lands at Auckland Airport. The company said it was up to the travel agent to inform the family their flight had been cancelled. Photo / File

A spokesperson for China Southern Airlines said while it felt for the family, if tickets were booked from an agent "the agents should alert the passengers by themselves".

"In this case, it is the agent's responsibility to contact the passenger," the spokesperson said.

"If a ticket is purchased from the agent, it is not an agreement only between China Southern and the customer, but among three parties. The agent should and must undertake the obligations of contact.

"In this case, we did send the information in the booking system so that all the agents could receive it and should inform the related passengers. We have the records that dozens of passengers related to this route in New Zealand were informed by their agents."

However, Consumer NZ's Jessica Wilson said both the travel agent and the airline had a responsibility.

"Consumers go to travel agents to make the whole booking process easier, so we would expect the agent to inform the customer and they should have been alerted by the airline as well that that had happened."

The agent would have made the booking on behalf of the customer and should have received notice from the airline about the flight cancellation, Wilson said.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, travel agents had to perform their services with reasonable care and skill, she said, and "we would expect that to include informing the customer promptly of any change in flight information".

An affected customer could have grounds for recompense including for consequential losses which are any additional expenses they've had to pay as a result of the agent's failure.

Andrew Olsen, chief executive of the Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand [TAANZ], said Eco Travels wasn't one of its members so he couldn't comment about its behaviour.

However, "typically" the travel agent would have the passenger's contact details which it would then pass on to the airline.

"The airline is then in a position to contact the customer. So there's a breakdown there somewhere between agent and customer."

A contract is formed with the help of the agent, Olsen said, but the contract itself was with the carrier.

"Because the agent issues the ticket as a ground agent for the airline," he said.

"Someone should have been able to contact them and say, 'hey, there's been a change'. Millions of flights are changed every day. It's a system that works."

If the airline did not have the customer's details and instead went back to the agent, "there's a problem".

"They've omitted to contact the customer."