To honour the life of their father Joe Isiah who passed away in April, James and Bonnie along with James’ wife Catrina, mum Lois and daughter Sophie, planned a special trip to scatter his ashes in his birthplace – Rarotonga.
It was meant to double as a Christmas family holiday and an opportunity for five-year-old Sophie and her dad and aunty to learn more about their Cook Islands ancestry.
But their trip has been riddled with problems, starting with when they checked in for a Jetstar flight to Rarotonga at Auckland Airport on December 22.
Catrina Isiah who organised the travel arrangements said they chose Jetstar because the tickets were cheap.
However, their holiday has been plagued with numerous problems starting from when the family of five went to check in and were told the passenger limit on the flight had been cut.
“We were told to go back at 6.50pm to see if the pilot would allow us on the flight,” Catrina says.
The family of five were allowed on the flight. However, they were told their luggage, five suitcases packed with essential medication, personal items and presents for Sophie and a chilly box containing a Christmas ham and Sophie’s favourite foods, wouldn't be put on the same flight. It would arrive the following day (December 23) on an Air New Zealand flight, Jetstar staff told them.
“I called to check, but was told it wouldn't come in until the following day,” she said.
On Christmas Eve Catrina Isiah called again to see if their luggage was on a 12.30am flight and was told it was, so the family waited up for it to arrive.
“We waited for over an hour to only be told our luggage was not there. I again called Jetstar’s customer service team and was told our luggage was definitely on that flight and that if it wasn’t, that Jetstar no longer knew where it was and yet another email enquiry would be lodged.”
The luggage arrived on Boxing Day, minus one suitcase, which Jetstar claims was never part of the family’s luggage in the first place.
They were left with a chilly box full of perishable food items wasted and a combined bill of $1200 for the money spent having to replace essential items.
But there have been silver linings mainly in the form of generosity shown by people in Rarotonga.
A CITC staff member turned up on Christmas Eve with a suitcase overflowing with new clothing, Christmas presents for Sophie, food, drinks and wine.
Another woman turned up with bags of goodies after seeing the family’s plight on Facebook.
“We are grateful and appreciative to everyone who read our story and came to see us. Their kindness has made this experience worthwhile,” Bonnie Isiah says.
Meanwhile, little Sophie has continued to keep her family grounded with wisdom beyond her years.
“Jetstar will be held accountable for this I will make sure of that, so no other family has to go through what we have. But through it all our daughter has been so understanding,” Catrina says.
“Thankfully I had her most important Christmas present in my carry-on bag (a Mermaid Barbie) and Bonnie had her Dad’s ashes in hers as well, so we will keep laughing and smiling.”
Cook Islands News had not received a response from Jetstar media spokesperson Phil Boyen before yesterday’s printing deadline.