The proposed reforms to the Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol) scheme, which provides for refunds and repatriation if a travel firm fails, will extend the protection to about six million more holidays, according to the Department for Transport.
The reforms are aimed at ensuring millions more consumers will be protected if a holiday company goes bust but Which? say the reforms don’t go far enough.
Rochelle Turner, Head of Research for Which? Travel, said: ‘These proposals go some way towards improving Atol, but it’s not the complete reform we had hoped for, and that consumers really need.’
Under the existing system, consumers are protected only if they buy a holiday that meets a definition of a package that was drawn up in the 1970s.
Since then the arrival of no-frills airlines and online booking has meant customers often buy holidays that look like packages but are not covered by the Atol scheme.
Atol protection extended
Today’s proposals will bring more holidays under the scheme by extending it to any sales that involve a flight and another holiday component such as accommodation and car hire.
To be protected under the new flight-plus system, the flight and other components will have to be bought within two successive days.
The reforms also propose that companies selling Atol protected holidays will have to give customers a certificate spelling out their refunds and repatriation rights if a firm providing the holiday fails.
Holiday protection gaps remain
The system covers only overseas holidays and does not apply to airlines who also sell other holiday components. Rochelle Turner says: ‘There are some big gaps – we believe airlines that offer car hire or accommodation alongside their flights should have to have an Atol licence; and the proposals should cover UK holidays, as anyone flying within the UK will be left high and dry.’
The scheme will also not cover travel agents who act as the agent for the consumer by technically buying the holiday for the customer rather than selling it to them.
The Department for Transport also said it would ‘strongly encourage’ those business to make sure consumers were aware their holiday would not be protected.
Check with your tour operator
Rochelle Turner added: ‘the proposed certificate will help ensure people know exactly what parts of their holiday are covered. We are also pleased that any agent or operator putting together a ‘Flight-plus’ package will require an Atol licence.’
‘Until these proposals come into force, travellers should always make sure they check with their tour operator or agent to see which parts of their holiday, if any, are Atol bonded.’
First step in reform
Today’s proposals go out for consultation until 15 September, and the regulations are due to come into force on 1 January next year, in time for the peak 2012 booking period.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which manages the Atol scheme, said the proposals were a ‘first step’ in reforming consumer protection and more consultation on how protection should be funded would take place in the autumn.
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