Air New Zealand apologises after failing to contact unaccompanied kids' parents

Jadah George's 10-year-old twin daughters Lilly and Mya were travelling as unaccompanied minors on a flight from Brisbane to Chirstchurch.
Jadah George's 10-year-old twin daughters Lilly and Mya were travelling as unaccompanied minors on a flight from Brisbane to Chirstchurch. Photo credit: Supplied

Air New Zealand has apologised for "letting down" two families who weren't told about the whereabouts of their unaccompanied kids after a flight diversion last month.

Jadah George's 10-year-old twin daughters Lilly and Mya were travelling as unaccompanied minors on a flight from Brisbane to Christchurch in January.

Rachel Edwards' daughters Alice, 13, and Sophie, 10, were travelling on the same flight.

The flight was due to land shortly after midnight in Christchurch but because of heavy fog it was diverted to Auckland. The families, who did not know each other, were each informed of the diversion and that they would be contacted when the flight landed in Auckland.

By 2:30am, neither family had heard from any Air New Zealand staff and were unsure of their children's whereabouts. 

The girls were taken to McDonald's by a man not in an Air New Zealand uniform. The parents were not informed of where their children were staying and when they finally got to their hotel room at around 4am, three of the children shared a queen bed while the other had a single bed to themselves. 

Both parties were assured they would be refunded. Mr George says he is yet to get the full refund for the $600 flights, while Ms Edwards says she hasn't had a refund at all yet.

Mr George, from Ashburton, says it was the first time his daughters had flown alone. 

"When you're not with your children, you worry about them," he said. "You just want to know where your children are, it's a pretty horrible feeling."

The only reason they were flying alone was because they had gone to visit their grandmother during the school holidays. The girls were meant to have been flying back with Mr George's nephew, but his passport had run out and he couldn't fly.

Mr George had thought about going to Brisbane to fly back with his daughters, but flights over got too expensive.

Ms Edwards' daughters travel over to Brisbane every school holiday to see their father on a court order. 

Both parties agreed it was a good move the pilot did not land in the tricky weather conditions, but it was the staff actions and procedures once they landed in Auckland that truly disappointed them. 

Unaccompanied minors on Air New Zealand flights can wear, if purchased, a monitoring bracelet embedded with a chip which is scanned at stages of the journey.

"You pay that extra money and you get this type of care," Ms Edwards says.

Mr George says they had contacted the children through the wristband in Brisbane, but once they were in New Zealand, there was nothing.

"There were so many opportunities for things to have gone wrong," Ms Edwards says.

She says there has been no real formal apology other than one in an email from the airline, and she hoped Air New Zealand would review its unaccompanied minors policies and procedures so this did not happen in the future.

She also encouraged parents to have cellphones for their children so they could have contact with them in such a situation. 

Mr George says he would not let his daughter's travel as unaccompanied minors again. 

Air New Zealand responded to Newshub's queries with an email they had sent to the families. 

"We appreciate that when your children travel with Air New Zealand, especially as unaccompanied minors, you are entrusting us with their safety and wellbeing and we take feedback of this nature very seriously," it read.

"We have clear processes in place for caring for children travelling unaccompanied and I'm sorry that we have let you down in this instance."

Air New Zealand has investigated the incident.

The children were located in the Special Handling area, which is screened off from the main terminal but next to and within sight of the ticketing desk. The children remained there while Air New Zealand team members worked to issue vouchers for other disrupted customers.

"The children could not go to the hotel until the processing of other disrupted customers had been completed because the team member allocated to stay with your children was also required to assist other customers due to the very limited number of staff in the airport at this hour," a spokesperson said.

"We appreciate that this was now in the early hours of the morning which is less than ideal.

"The man who arranged a meal for your children while waiting for the last of the hotel accommodation to be arranged was our Airport Operations Manager. He is not a uniformed staff member and was wearing a suit, but he was wearing his airline identification at all times.

"We will work with our airport teams to ensure team members who are non-uniformed are properly introduced to the children in our care going forward."

A staff member had suggested the three younger girls sleep in the queen bed, with the oldest child in the single. 

While she believed this was the right decision at the time, we will ensure we provide clear guidelines to our staff around room sharing going forward, she says.

The families are in still in the process of being refunded the price of their tickets, and have been offered an additional 250 Airpoints Dollars.

Ms Edwards' refund has been processed, and she could expect to receive it later this week, the airline says.