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Agent ‘sent couple to wrong country in Africa’

November 13, 2018 Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

A well-known travel agency chain stands accused of sending a young couple to the wrong African country, and after the shocked travellers arrived and found themselves stranded there, telling them they should have checked their itinerary.

Devon Kilkelly and Tomas Woodford Webb booked their trip to Africa through STA Travel – the main purpose of the visit being to visit the Malawi nursery school Devon worked at as a volunteer in 2015.

The gripping story of what happened next unfolded on New Zealand television last week, on that country’s long-established and high-rating consumer affairs show, Fair Go.

When the couple made their booking to Africa at STA Travel’s Dunedin branch, the idea was to link up with Devon’s parents at Victoria Falls, Zambia. But when the group arrived they found that instead of being booked to fly out of Livingstone in Zambia (the airport closest in that country to Victoria Falls) they had been booked to fly out of Victoria Falls Airport, Zimbabwe.

“We got there [the check-in desk in Zambia], and we walked up and they said, ‘Oh, can we see your itinerary?’” Devon told Fair Go.

“And we handed it over and they said, ‘Oh, look, I’m so sorry but that airline doesn’t fly out of here. You’re flying out of Zimbabwe’.”

“We were just in absolute shock, we just couldn’t believe it, and we just didn’t know what to do.”

The couple and Devon’s parents realised they had two and a half hours to try and cross the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, complete exit and entry visas for Zambia and Zimbabwe, and reach a different airport on the other side.

It’s hardly surprising they missed the flight. They came within10 minutes of catching it, which is good going in the circumstances.

When the couple asked STA to try and negotiate new flights on their behalf, they say STA told them to deal directly with the airline. This effectively stranded them in an African country they had no intention of visiting, with no US dollars (which is the only currency of any use in Zimbabwe) and no working ATMs.

“Just horrific,” was a term Devon used to describe the problem.

Out of interest, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advises on Zimbabwe: Exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of crime and the possibility of civil unrest and political violence.

On Zambia, DFAT advises: Exercise normal safety precautions in Zambia. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour.

So although the two East African countries are next to each other and start with ‘Z’, there’s a big difference.

Missing that flight triggered a cascade of missing other flights. Devon and Tomas had to fork out about AUD 5000 for replacement flights.

Livingstone, Zambia

Fair Go said that when the couple approached STA Travel about their predicament, they were told they should have checked their itinerary.

As the show pointed out: that’s what travel agents are for. That’s why people choose agents rather than making the booking themselves – because agents are meant to know these things and check itineraries.

When the couple saw Victoria Falls Airport on the itinerary they assumed it was in Zambia, where they were visiting, rather that Zimbabwe, which they were not visiting.

There was no mention of Zimbabwe on the itinerary supplied by STA, nor the visas required for it, Devon said.

Once Fair Go got involved, STA had a change of heart.

In a statement after being contacted by the program, the company said: “We would never knowingly put any customers in a position where they were unable to travel and we take any problems of this nature extremely seriously.

“For this reason we do ask that customers check their documentation closely and alert us to any queries or concerns.”

STA fully refunded the couple their flights and costs.

Written by Peter Needham in Waikanae, New Zealand

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. bruce weston says:

    hmm bit like flying to/from Melbourne ,,Sydney , Brisbane novia scotia , all can be in other countries quite a few places have multiple airports k. l . comes to mind but a least they are only a few kms apart

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