Abta is revising its Code of Conduct on unavoidable delays to flights following last December’s snow disruption.
The requirement for Abta members to immediately compensate customers for departure delays, regardless of the cause, is to be clarified by the end of the year.
Abta senior solicitor Paula Macfarlane said: “In general, a customer is entitled to an alternative holiday or a refund for a delay of 12 hours or more. [But] it is an issue how far tour operators are responsible for force majeure events.
"The specific situation we are looking at is delays. When a client is delayed on the day of departure, often for force majeure reasons, we've listened to members' comments that offering a refund at the time isn't reasonable or practicable. The guidance to the code will be clarified on this point."
Force majeure refers to circumstances or events beyond the control of parties to a contract.
The Abta code requires members to compensate customers for “significant changes” to holiday arrangements, a phrase taken from the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs). But the code goes further in detailing what constitutes such a change and includes a delay or change of flight time of more than 12 hours.
Macfarlane told an Abta travel law seminar last week: “The delays [due to snow] caused a lot of consternation among members. The code of conduct committee has decided it requires a more realistic approach and the code will change. There will not be an obligation to offer a refund [in future].”
Abta head of legal services Simon Bunce told Travel Weekly: “The purpose of the code of conduct is to improve industry behaviour, but tour operators generally have no control over flight delays. We have to assess whether we are penalising people for no purpose.”
Bunce added: “It is a question of how we formulate the code. What are members supposed to do about flight delays? There is nothing they could do to avoid a repetition.” He said the code would be revised before the end of the year.
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