Government ‘looked at pruning Atol’ but found it couldn’t

Government ‘looked at pruning Atol’ but found it couldn’t

The government considered scaling back Atol consumer protection but found it “would not work”, transport minister Theresa Villiers said yesterday.

Appearing before a committee of MPs for the second time this week, Villiers said: “We discussed whether we should scale back Atol and challenge consumers to fix the problem [themselves]. For many reasons we did not think that would work.”

She made clear the government has not decided whether to bring airline sales of holiday into the Atol scheme - a point she insisted on to the Transport Select Committee on Tuesday.

Villiers said: “We have a firm commitment to extend Atol to travel agents selling holidays. We think there is a case for bringing airlines into the scheme, but we have not made a final decision.”

The minister earlier saw Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer appear before the Public Bill Committee, which was reviewing the planned Civil Aviation Bill.

Tanzer told her: “A flight and a room is a holiday whether sold by a tour operator, a travel agent or an airline. Not having airlines in is a dilution of the scheme. It will drive people to the unprotected segment of the market.

“If airlines do not carry the costs of protection, their prices will appear cheaper.”

He told MPs: “We have been pushing for changes to the Atol regime to be brought in as quickly as possible.”

Asked if the Flight-Plus rules would extend financial protection sufficiently to cover most online bookings, Tanzer said: “This will capture the vast majority of sales.”

However, he added: “We want to encourage customers to want this. It would be hugely helped by a public information campaign.” The Abta chief executive said: “We go all over the country talking to members and far from wanting to avoid this, people want to opt in.

The committee also heard from British Air Transport Association (Bata) chairman Dr Barry Humphreys, who declined to give a view on extending Atol to Flight-Plus holidays sold by airlines.

Humphreys said: “Bata does not have a view on this. Some of our members are part of large tour operator groups like Thomas Cook and Tui Travel, so they view it from the point of view of a tour operator. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and BMI take a different view. There is no common ground at all.”

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