A Christmas present turned to crushing disappointment after Jetstar refused to let a 12-year-old girl fly to see her father.
Ashleigh Harvey had been due to fly from Christchurch to Wellington yesterday morning but, despite getting a boarding pass without a hitch, she was told as she went to board that she was too young to fly alone.
Jetstar rules state that only "secondary school" students are allowed to fly as unaccompanied minors. Ashleigh starts secondary school in Christchurch later this month.
Her father, Daniel, moved to Australia after the 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
She flew to see him in Brisbane unaccompanied two years ago on Air New Zealand and was looking forward to seeing him at her grandfather's house in Naenae, Lower Hutt, today.
"I only get to see my dad every two years if I'm lucky," she said after discovering she would miss out on seeing him.
Her grandfather, Stuart Harvey, who bought Ashleigh her ticket as a Christmas present, said his granddaughter had been treated with "contempt" by Jetstar staff in Christchurch.
Ashleigh, who turns 13 in May, was told by one person she had to be 13 to fly unaccompanied, then 15 by someone else.
However, Jetstar's website says children need to be "currently attending secondary school to qualify to travel independently".
It does not stipulate whether year 7 and 8 students who attend secondary school qualify or not.
Mr Harvey said he assumed Ashleigh would be fine to travel as, from the age of 12, Jetstar makes everyone pay full fare.
Until yesterday he had not seen the part of the website that says unaccompanied children needed to be in secondary school.
"Their website is such a mish-mash to go through," Mr Harvey's partner, Michele Reardon, said.
Jetstar spokeswoman Emma Kearns said the airline had a clear policy on its website and, during the online booking process, that unaccompanied children needed to be at secondary school, with proof.
Asked why the policy was the way it was, rather than age-based, she said: "That's [the] policy. There has to be some kind of cutoff."
Identification checks could be made at various points before boarding.
"We apologise for any inconvenience the family has experienced, and our customer care team will make contact with the family to arrange a refund for the flight," she said.
But Ashleigh's mother, Sonia Rogers, said that was "not very helpful at all", especially as a response to her online complaint would take 15 working days and a refund would take 10 working days.
The airline offered to put Ashleigh on another flight, but only if Miss Rogers flew up and back with her, paying $50 each way. "Does it look like I can pluck $100 out of thin air?"
Air New Zealand's policy for unaccompanied minors on same-day domestic trips says children under 5 must travel with someone 15 or older. Children 5 and over can travel as unaccompanied minors and are cared for by crew while travelling.
- The Dominion Post