Independent agents have hit out at major airlines for not waiving cancellation fees or simplifying flight changes amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Cruise lines including Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and P&O Cruises have all amended or cancelled itineraries to avoid countries in Asia where travel restrictions are in place to stop the virus spreading.
But retailers who have dynamically packaged cruises with flights to Asian destinations other than mainland China have run into problems with airlines as they have tried to fly customers to or from different embarkation or disembarkation ports.
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The Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to mainland China but not to countries such as Singapore and Vietnam, so airlines continue to fly there.
Travel Village Group chief executive Phil Nuttall, chair of the Clia travel agent advisory council, said: “The airlines are the problem here. The airlines are not allowing agents to reroute the ticket.
“I am fed up with it. They need to come to the table,” urged Nuttall, who has previously called on airlines to waive cancellation fees.
“This is a travel industry situation that affects cruise and non-cruise, and the airlines are at the very heart of it.
“Allowing amendments to tickets should be the very least they offer.”
Paul Hardwick, head of commercial at Fred Olsen Travel, said many airlines were “sticking to the rules”, adding it was “hard not to” dynamically package cruises in Asia.
“The problem we’ve had is when we have booked seats eight months ago and now there is a lack of availability,” he said.
Airlines were only allowing passengers to be switched on to different flights in the same fare class, Hardwick said, adding that it was proving problematic on short-term departure dates.
It is understood larger cruise retailers have avoided similar issues due to commercial agreements they have in place with cruise lines.
Travel Weekly approached KLM, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and British Airways for comment.
A spokesperson for BA said: “We are working with cruise companies and accommodating requests where possible. We are monitoring the situation closely.
“Like all airlines, we are liaising closely with government and health organisations.”
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