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Jetstar refused to shift a booking for the mother of shark victim Adam Strange to fly to Auckland after his death.
Jeanette Strange, of Paraparaumu, had already booked return flights from Wellington to visit her son next week.
But after police broke the news to her on Wednesday of her son's death at Muriwai Beach, her sister rang Jetstar to transfer the booking, telling the airline about the horrific reasons for the change.
"They put me on hold for 10 minutes to talk to a supervisor, then said they were very sorry but could not transfer the booking. She would have to pay $321 for a new ticket," sister Kay Cresswell said yesterday.
"We were trying to calm Jeanette, saying hang on, hang on. They said there was a plane leaving [Wellington] in one-and-a-half hours with three spare seats.
"I was disgusted with their lack of compassion and hung up."
She then contacted Air New Zealand, and was told there were two seats left on a flight to Auckland.
When they arrived at Wellington Airport the flight was full, but police had already notified the airline of their arrival, and it gave Mrs Strange a discounted seat.
She was escorted to the Koru lounge, given refreshments, a diabetic food package for the flight, and was escorted to the plane.
"The police were brilliant. Air NZ was marvellous," Mrs Cresswell said.
A written response from Jetstar said the company reviewed requests to waive fare-change fees on compassionate grounds on a case-by-case basis.
Fees could be refunded at a later date on receipt of a request and supporting documentation.
"Jetstar extends its sympathies to Mrs Strange and her family. Jetstar appreciate this would have been a stressful situation and regrets if the service received by her relative from our call centre was perceived as unsympathetic," a spokesman said.
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said she was sure discretion could be used on compassionate grounds.
"I find it rather extraordinary Jetstar would not have just made anything available for that young man's mother. You usually throw rules out the window on those occasions and are there to assist."
Victim Support chief executive Tony Paine believed Jetstar should have "done the right thing".
"It is a terrible time for the family. I would like to think the community, including the corporate world, would have got behind them during this terrible time."
Adam Strange, 46, was swimming from Maori Bay to Muriwai Beach, about 200 metres from shore, in training for an ocean swim event, when he was dragged under water by what is thought to have been a great white shark.
- The Dominion Post