Family fed up with Air NZ as kids penalised for a few heavy packers

Eight-year-old Hudson Steele is a frequent flyer. His school holidays are divided between spending time with his grandad Colin Edwards in Whangārei, with his mum Julia Edwards in Kerikeri, and seeing his dad in Ōtautahi, Christchurch.

Hudson Steele prepares to fly with mum Julia Edwards. Source: 1 NEWS

To make sure he spends time with all of his family, Colin and Julia have been booking Hudson to fly as an unaccompanied minor with Air New Zealand since he was five.

"It's a brilliant service," says grandad Colin.

"It's been working wonderfully and Hudson likes it so much, when we take him to the airport, he doesn't have time to say goodbye, he's so keen to get on the plane.”

The unaccompanied minor, or UM service, is for children between five and 16 who are travelling alone.

It used to be an extra $15 fee on top of the airfare for domestic one-way flights, and $40 for international flights, with carry-on luggage as an option.

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Every unaccompanied minor on the airline now required to pay for checked in baggage with carry on only no longer an option. Source: Fair Go

As part of the service, children are checked in and staff guide them to their flights. They're also given a special airband - a device that tracks them every step of their journey. Text messages are sent to their guardians at each step too.

"I like it how they treat you well and when you ask them politely they give you snacks and food and everything," Hudson says.

The Edwards were more than happy with the service, until Colin went in to book ahead of the school holidays. Normally, when Colin books a flight for Hudson, there are four classes of fare available.

The cheapest one is a carry-on bag only, the next option costs $20 more for a seat and a checked bag, and there are two more premium options.

"I suddenly found there was no fare on the internet for carry-on only," Colin says.

"I thought that's weird, must be they've had a problem with their website."

But it wasn't a glitch on the website. Air New Zealand had changed their rules.

As of March, the service fee has gone up to $30 one-way for domestic flights. Although international flying isn't really an option right now, it too has doubled to $40 .

It's the first increase in years, but that's not what's got the Edwards fed up. As part of the changes, children must now have a seat and a bag booking.

"It's such a silly charge, there's no justification for it," Colin says.

It means any luggage that UM passengers carry has to be checked in. That's an extra $20 each way.

"It's getting pretty expensive," Colin says.

"$60 on top, fine, but another 40, that's getting pretty steep".

A trip that once cost them $30 in extras, now costs one hundred. That's not even taking into account school holiday fare prices.

"It's just unfair," Hudson says.

"I'm used to having my bag, under the seat in front of me, or over in the over-head locker".

The changes mean no matter the size of the bag, all unaccompanied travellers are going to pay.

"I think it’s disgraceful, I think it's discriminatory," says Colin.

"They are just charging parents and grandparents. They wouldn't have the nerve to charge business people for checking the bag when they weren't checking anything in.”

It's also starting to take the fun out of flying for Hudson. If he has to check a bag in, he can't play with the toys he's packed for his stop-over in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland.

Air New Zealand says UM passengers can bring a little backpack with their special things on board. But that would mean kids travelling with more bags.

Colin got in touch with the airline himself, and they told him it's worried about the health and safety of its staff.

The airline says that there have been cases where children turn up at the airport with baggage they're unable to carry onboard or stow themselves.

"I don't think they can just single out children and get away with it, it's not fair," Colin says.

Air New Zealand's General Manager Customer Leeanne Langridge says checking in baggage makes it easier for everybody.

"You've often got big numbers and little five-year-olds with 7kg bags," she says.

"That's a lot for them to manage through the airport."

But, as Colin points out, not all UM passengers take heavy bags. So, why are they all being charged for it?

"It really comes back to scale. It's often school holidays that people are travelling. It's never normally one or two children, it's usually 15 to 20," Leeanne says.

"It's not just about one child, it's actually about getting this right for everybody."

But, Leeanne says that Air New Zealand will take into account how their customers feel about the service.

"If this is something that people overwhelmingly believe is not fair, then we'll take that into consideration, definitely," she says.

The Edwards hope so because Air New Zealand is the only airline in the country that accepts children under 12.

"Short of driving all the way down and getting the father to drive all the way back up and catching a ferry, that's where we're at, pay or don't travel," says Julia.

Colin's hoping the changes aren't permanent.

"I want everybody to get back to how it was," he says.

"I don't want other parents and grandparents to be penalised.”