Plane travel and coronavirus: Travel agent warns travellers against booking the cheapest airfares

At the onset of Covid-19 lockdowns worldwide, two brothers from New Zealand found themselves stranded thousands of miles away in South America.

Jeremy and Mathew​ Neville-Lamb​ had been travelling in for three months and were in Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia, when the country closed its borders in March.

"We had two-to-three days to get out of the country," Mathew Neville-Lamb said.

"We were able to book a flight on line to Los Angeles but the Air New Zealand website wouldn't let me book flights on to Auckland.

"Everything was rapidly changing."

Through their mother, Jodie​, in New Zealand, they contacted local travel broker Carole Garnham, who found them return flights to Auckland via stopovers in Miami, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

The brothers arrived in New Plymouth, New Zealand after 50 hours of travelling, and went into 14 days isolation at their mother's house.

The brothers

Brothers Jeremy and Mathew​ Neville-Lamb Photo: Supplied

Garnham said in the tim of Coronavirus, travel was not "just a matter of going on the internet, looking at the bottom line and finding the cheapest fare".

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With global air travel in meltdown, the travel broker of 25 years says her industry is more important than ever to help people get back home.

"Circumstances have changed everywhere.

"It's a lot more paperwork now and not just a simple task of booking a flight as before."

In early July, most flights into New Zealand were abruptly cancelled for three weeks, to ease pressure on hotels used to quarantine arrivals.

This left hundreds of people scrambling to rebook flights, or stuck in countries for longer than they planned.

Garnham said having the support and knowledge of a travel agent was now essential when travelling overseas, as they could be called on to rearrange flights, advise on travel documents and increasingly chase down refunds on cancelled flights.

"Paperwork, such as medical certificates, may take 14 days to process, which would not suit people wanting to travel immediately."

Consumer head of research Jessica Wilson said more consumers book online because it was easier to do.

"When overseas travel resumes, consumers will increasingly be asking what happens to their money if the trip is cancelled by another Covid-19 event and whether they'll get a refund.

"Companies that offer fair refund policies will be a much more attractive proposition for consumers."

Consumer head of research Jessica Wilson said more consumers book online because it was easier to do.

"Consumers are more likely to use an agent when booking overseas rather than domestic travel," she said.

"With Covid-19, international travel plans are on hold for most consumers and agents have seen business drop dramatically.

"When overseas travel resumes, consumers will increasingly be asking what happens to their money if the trip is cancelled by another Covid-19 event and whether they'll get a refund.

"Companies that offer fair refund policies will be a much more attractive proposition for consumers."

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See also: Even with a vaccine, the era of risk-free travel is gone forever

See also: Come here for a year, bring your laptop, and 'forget about coronavirus'

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