A Dog of a Deal From Qantas

August 14, 2008

A mix-up that has left three Waikato families facing large bills for the transportation of specially trained dogs from the US has shown Qantas treats its customers with about as much respect as the pooches it was flying.

After two years of fundraising for the autism assistance dogs to help their children with behavioural issues, the families face more heartache in the form of an unexpected $33,000 bill for flying the dogs from Los Angeles.

The three dogs had already flown alongside their handlers on two American Airlines flights from Ohio to LA when Qantas Airways staff refused to let them board the last step of the journey to New Zealand.

Karen Shirk, the head of the organisation training the dogs, had bought tickets and confirmed the dogs were allowed to fly in the cabin but arrived at the terminal to find Qantas, who ran the last leg of the flight under a code-share agreement, had no knowledge of this.

Another explanation from Ms Shirk that they were service dogs, in the same category as those used by the blind, fell on deaf ears, with the airline insisting that had to be given in writing. To get the dogs to New Zealand, Ms Shirk bought new seats, put the dogs in the cargo hold and passed the bill on to families who had already tapped every fundraising avenue they could think of.

Never has there been a more striking case of airline red tape and petty bureaucracy penalising the deserving. A customer booking a ticket and checking its conditions with the seller has every reason to expect those conditions to be honoured. Ms Shirk had done this with American Airlines only to find herself in the lap of the gods and Qantas’ sparse goodwill due to the code-share arrangement.

Code-sharing allows airlines to place their passengers on another’s flights, generally as a cost- saving measure to fill up planes.

No problem – unless the rules at the two companies are different and you don’t know about it, like Ms Shirk.

Passengers who enter into a contract by buying a ticket should expect to have the conditions they bought it under honoured. Passing the buck on to another carrier is not good customer relations. Qantas’ response was to over-ride what American Airlines had told the dog carriers, and impose their own rules.

This is their problem, not the passengers’.

Within a few hours of the story appearing in the Waikato Times on Saturday, good samaritans had already offered cash to help foot the bill.

But let’s make one thing clear. These families and the good folk of the Waikato should not be responsible for paying for a blunder caused by airline red tape and mis- communication. Qantas simply has to consider the question – was this fair?

If it does that, it will likely shoulder its responsibility and admit it made a mistake.

A refund and apology should swiftly follow. Only then can Qantas passengers feel they’re flying with an airline that is not barking mad.

(c) 2008 Waikato Times. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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