Opinion: A flight-plus Atol is not enough in the internet age

Opinion: A flight-plus Atol is not enough in the internet age

Abta head of public affairs Luke PollardBoth Tui and easyJet held parliamentary receptions this week which gave the industry the chance to voice their concerns about issues including Air Passenger Duty, sustainability and Atol reform to Transport Secretary Teresa Villiers.

It is reassuring that Tui and easyJet are making their presence felt in parliament. The time is now approaching when we will find out if the industry's strenuous lobbying efforts have paid off.

The last year has seen an enormous amount of lobbying and discussion about Atol. What is clear is that the soon-to-be-announced consultation on reforms offers the government an opportunity to get the system right.

From Abta’s perspective, this means extending consumer protection while at the same time bringing scheduled airlines and click-through arrangements into the Atol scheme. Simply adding flight-plus arrangements, though a welcome step, does not go far enough.
 
The argument for including click-through bookings is compelling. Firstly, let’s not forget why the Department for Transport launched its consultation: the requirements of the Atol scheme were drafted many years ago and reflect a pre-internet world in which the vast majority of holidaymakers went on traditional packages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and less than half of the travelling public are Atol-protected. Millions of customers do not have that cover as they book flights and accommodation through airline click-throughs.

Customers perceive those bookings to be packages and they deserve the same level of financial protection as those whose holidays fall under the traditional definition. Ignoring these customers would leave any new Atol scheme fundamentally flawed and severely undermine its credibility. Moreover, such a system would have a disproportional impact as it would only be regulating a part of our sector.

There are few convincing arguments against including click-throughs. Admittedly it will be technically challenging to draft the regulation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

When the government unveils the draft Atol regulations in a few weeks’ time, it has a unique opportunity to offer the trade a reassurance that a revised scheme will extend consumer protection, giving certainty to millions of travellers.

The aviation minister talks about extending protection to cover ‘holidays’ and not just packages, so let’s see if her actions match her words.

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