A British couple who missed out on a five-night holiday in China after Qantas refused to allow them on a flight to Beijing have been offered just £137 each by the Australian airline.
On 13 March, Ian and Jane Swann from Devon tried to check in at Christchurch airport for their early morning Qantas flight to Sydney with a connection to Beijing.
Mr and Mrs Swann had visited their son in New Zealand. On the way home they intended to take advantage of a recent loosening of immigration regulations which allows transit visitors to stay six days in the Chinese capital without a visa.
The couple had booked a five-night stay at the Jade Garden Hotel in Beijing.
In line with the new 144-hour visa-exemption policy, they were booked to leave before midnight on the sixth day after their arrival and travel onwards to a different country, the UAE.
But check-in staff at the New Zealand airport refused to allow them on board. Mr Swann contacted The Independent from Christchurch airport to say: “They say we do not have a visa and their information is we require an approved visa prior to boarding flight.”
Qantas has a clause in its conditions that allows it to refuse to carry a passenger who does not appear to have “all necessary documents”.
Yet while the rules for a short stay in transit are clear, and the couple complied with all the requirements, the Qantas staff at Christchurch refused to allow them on board.
The couple then asked to be allowed to fly at least as far Sydney, where Qantas has its HQ. They had permits to visit Australia, and hoped that they could sort out the problem there. But their request was turned down. Instead, they were obliged to book new flights on Emirates from Christchurch to Dubai and onwards to Heathrow at a cost of £1,164.
After a waiting at the airport all day, they then spent a further 24 hours flying halfway around the world. They arrived home five days early.
Mr Swann said: “We spent some 54 hours in transit back home — an exhausting, stressful and expensive time for us, and not the way this trip of a lifetime should have ended.”
Qantas promises customers: “We will look after you if things don't go as planned.”
After The Independent contacted Qantas, the airline admitted a mistake had been made, though it offered no explanation for the refusal to allow Mr and Mrs Swann the chance to fly to Sydney and discuss their eligibility at the airline’s main base.
A spokesperson for Qantas said: “We apologise for the inconvenience caused to the Swann family who were incorrectly denied travel from Christchurch to Beijing for allegedly not having the required visas.
“We’re working with our check-in team to ensure this mistake doesn’t happen again and have reached out to the customer to offer compensation.”
Qantas has agreed to meet the additional costs its decision triggered. But for the lost holiday and added stress endured by the couple, the airline is offering them just £137 each.
Any EU airline that wrongly denies travel on a long-haul route must pay four times as much.
The Qantas offer works out at less than £1 for each hour they hoped to spend in China.
Mr Swann described the offer as “ill-considered, derisory, totally inadequate and unacceptable”.
The incident draws attention to the remarkable lack of consumer protection for passengers on Australian airlines. For example, Qantas tells overbooked passengers: “We will rebook you on the next available flight on our services at no additional cost to you.” No mention is made of compensation, nor of being offered the chance to travel on a rival airline.
In February, Qantas announced underlying half-year profits of almost A$1bn (£547m).
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