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US couple spends 6.5 lakh for flight change post wife’s cancer diagnosis, Air New Zealand apologises

Mar 04, 2024 07:13 PM IST

The US couple’s vacation to New Zealand was cut short when wife was diagnosed with the cancer of gallbladder and has only four months to live.

Todd and Patricia Kerekes, a couple from the United States, were vacationing in New Zealand when they received devastating news. Patricia Kerekes was diagnosed with cancer, and the couple had to fly back home immediately. For this, they requested a flight change from Air NZ, which cost them 6.5 lakh. Yes, you read that right.

Following the widespread outcry after the US couple paid <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>6.5 lakh for the flight change, Air New Zealand apologised. (Representational imge/Unsplash)
Following the widespread outcry after the US couple paid 6.5 lakh for the flight change, Air New Zealand apologised. (Representational imge/Unsplash)

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Todd and Patricia Kerekes flew business class from New York to Auckland in January. The couple planned to stay in the country until April, but after Patricia was diagnosed with the cancer of the gallbladder, their surgeon advised them to make immediate arrangements to travel back home.

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“Right away on the first call I told them my wife was gravely ill, and we were on holiday and we needed to go back home,” the 60-year-old told Checkpoint as per Radio New Zealand.

However, despite explaining his situation to the airline, Todd encountered lengthy hold times for flight change. “And it was a whole series of long pauses, and I couldn’t tell whether they were conferring with co-workers or working at it on the computer or what it was. But I would go through a whole series of 15- to 30-minute hold periods, and sometimes the people would come back and basically tell me something I didn’t want to hear, like it was gonna cost me NZ$13,000 to change my flight,” he added.

Todd was shocked after hearing the price the airline quoted for the flight change. “What they were charging me was four times what the increase in the cost of the flights were.”

The 60-year-old man was cut off three times in his four-hour-long effort to get a more reasonable price. He further expressed, “They weren’t rude or unkind, but they were simply like, ‘Look, this is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ And I was like, it was surprising to me that in a situation where I was that they couldn’t be more helpful.”

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Following the widespread outcry, Air New Zealand’s general manager of customer care, Alisha Armstrong, issued a statement and apologised to the couple. The statement read, “It’s clear we fell short of expectations and our compassionate care policy was not followed in this case. We have reached out to Kerekes to apologise and issue a full refund for the additional costs incurred in changing their original flights.”

“Our compassionate fare policy is in place to support our customers in times of unexpected medical emergency or bereavement to book a last-minute flight or provide flexibility to easily make changes to existing bookings,” it further read.

The statement concluded with: “Once again, we apologise for how this case was handled, and our thoughts are with Mrs Kerekes at this time.”

Todd expressed resentment over the hours he spent getting his flight changed at a reasonable price, time that could have been spent with his ailing wife, Patricia, who has only four months left. The Kerekes eventually made it home on 26 February.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Arfa Javaid is a journalist working with the Hindustan Times' Delhi team. She covers trending topics, human interest stories, and viral content online.

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