Cancelled and bumped flights and delays. Lost luggage. Your rights and what to do.

Before you buy

Before buying an airline ticket, make sure you understand the terms and conditions that apply to cancelling or changing your flight.

When buying tickets:

  • buy from a reputable travel agent, travel site or airline
  • consider paying by credit or debit card when buying tickets online — if you have a problem, eg the tickets don't arrive, you can ask your bank to reverse the payment (called a Chargeback)
  • keep conversation records so if anything goes wrong, you have proof of what was said and agreed to
  • consider travel insurance, which may cover you for things outside the airline's control, eg flights are cancelled due to bad weather.

If things go wrong

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Test your know-how

Are you entitled to compensation if your flight is cancelled by the airline?

You're entitled to compensation if the cancellation or delay was the airline's fault. It may be their fault if the flight is overbooked so you can't get on - called being 'bumped', there are mechanical issues, or there aren't enough staff to service the flight.

If you have problems with your airline ticket or flight, eg you've been moved from the flight you booked, your flight is cancelled or severely delayed, you can:

  1. Contact the travel agent/airline: Explain the issue and tell them what you would like done about it.
  2. Claim on insurance: If the problem is not the airline's fault, eg your plane is cancelled because of bad weather.
  3. Apply for a Chargeback: If the travel agent/airline refuses to help, your bank or credit card company may be able to reverse charges to your card.
  4. Take it further: You can take formal disputes to the Disputes Tribunal and/or report the business to Commerce Commission.
  5. Get more help: Citizens Advice Bureau can advise and support you at any point.

Find more on each step below.

1. Contact the travel agent/airline

Before getting in touch with the business, it's useful to know your rights and how to complain effectively.

Your rights

Travel agents and airlines must comply with the service guarantees in the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). This means:

  • they must be competent and professional
  • their services must be fit for your particular purpose, eg have wheelchair facilities if you have asked for them.

A flight ticket is a contract between you and the airline. Before you buy it, the airline must clearly display, or tell you, the ticket's terms and conditions.

They cannot:

  • rely on terms and conditions — sometimes called Conditions of carriage — printed only on the ticket, unless you were given a reasonable chance to read them before you bought it
  • avoid compensating you for cancelled or delayed flights that were their fault, even if their terms and conditions say they can. 

If a shutdown for travel is government mandated, airlines are not responsible for providing a resolution or alternate plan for continuation of your journey.

If a flight is delayed or cancelled, the airline may need to refund your airfare. The airline may also need to pay out of pocket costs, eg meals, taxi fares, missed connections. Keep a record of what these are as proof.

You're entitled to compensation if the cancellation or delay was the airline's fault. It may be their fault if:

  • the flight is overbooked so you can't get on — called being "bumped"
  • there are mechanical issues
  • there aren't enough staff to service the flight.

How much you get depends on the level of inconvenience. You may be entitled to 10 times the price of your ticket, or the actual cost of your delay — whichever is lower.

The airline doesn't have to compensate you if the cancellation or delay couldn't have been avoided eg when there's extreme weather, air traffic control says the plane can't take off.

If a flight is cancelled due to mandatory government shutdown airlines are not responsible for providing a resolution or alternate plan for continuation of your journey. However, airlines operating within New Zealand will need to give you a refund unless their terms and conditions expressly provide that you are not entitled to one. This will vary from airline to airline so it is important to refer to your booking terms and conditions.

If the airline offers you less than you think you're entitled to, let them know. Provide evidence of your losses, eg extra costs, lost income, and ask them to reconsider. If you still can't agree, your next step is taking your case to the Disputes Tribunal.

What the tribunal can help with(external link) — Disputes Tribunal

Hand luggage: you are responsible for luggage you keep with you during a trip. However, the carrier must compensate you if hand luggage is lost or damaged through their carelessness.

Checked in luggage: the airline is responsible for luggage while it is checked in. Report lost or missing items to the airline within 24 hours. If you have problems getting compensation from the airline, speak to your insurer. If you have it, you may be able to claim on travel insurance. Also check your home and contents policy to see if items are covered.

For bookings affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, your rights to cancellation will be determined by the terms and conditions of the ticket or booking.

If you booked directly, start by checking with your accommodation provider (or your travel agent, if you booked with them). Also look on their website. Most accommodation providers have information about COVID-19 cancellations on their homepage.

The terms and conditions of your contract will outline the circumstances in which you may be entitled to a credit or a refund. 

For more information on checking your contract: 

Contracts and sales agreements

Example — Bumped flight

Margaret books a seat on a flight from Christchurch to Wellington to go for a weekend away. She has tickets to see a musical that night. When she arrives at the airport she is told the flight is full and they have bumped her onto a flight the next day. She doesn't need to pay for the new flight but has to catch a taxi home, and will miss the musical. She doesn't think this sounds fair. Before arriving at the airport the next morning, she reads her rights and collects together the receipts from the taxi and the musical. The airline agrees to give her a full refund for her taxi and concert tickets.

How to complain

Before you complain

  • Know what the business must do — read Your rights above.
  • Check the terms and conditions of your ticket — this will help you understand what you can expect, eg you may not be able to change your travel date without being charged.
  • Gather proof, eg emails between you and the travel agent or airline, bank statements, details of conversations and dates.
  • Decide your ideal outcome, egan apology, travel vouchers, money back.
  • Think about what you will say, eg what you are unhappy about and what you would like the business to do.

When complaining

  • Stick to the facts — explain the problem in detail and provide any evidence you have.
  • Be clear it is a complaint — use the word "complaint" in your phone call, instant message or email.
  • Tell them what you want — be clear what will fix your concern.
  • Take time out, if needed — if the conversation is getting heated or you need time to consider their response, arrange a time to call, email or message back. Explain you need time to think about the conversation.

How to complain

2. Claim on insurance

Travel insurance may cover expenses when it is not the airline's fault, eg you miss your flight, bad weather means the flight is cancelled or delayed. Check your travel policy to see what it covers.


3. Apply for a chargeback

Your bank or credit card company may reverse credit or debit card charges in certain situations — called a chargeback. Do this if you've paid a travel agent, or overseas airline, for a flight they haven't then booked. Chargebacks are only available for a short time after you made the transaction — usually about 30 days. Ask your bank what their time limit is and how to apply .

Chargebacks(external link) — Banking Ombudsman

4. Take your complaint further

If you aren't getting anywhere with the travel agent or airline, going to the Disputes Tribunal may be your next step. If you're disputing more than $30,000, you will need to go through the District Court. In this case, talk to Community Law Centre or a lawyer first.

Bear in mind, if the travel agent/airline is overseas it may be harder to enforce any formal decision.

What the tribunal can help with(external link) — Disputes Tribunal

You can report the business to the Commerce Commission if:

  • you think you have been misled
  • the business has said something that is not true.

Commerce Commission can't investigate every complaint, or solve your individual problem. But they can warn or prosecute the business. Your information helps them assess which consumer issues are causing the greatest harm.

Make a complaint(external link)  — Commerce Commission

5. More help

Get support at any point from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
  • Community Law Centre — offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Find a CAB(external link)  — Citizens Advice Bureau

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres