Comment: Those in charge rarely listen to us at the front end

Comment:  Those in charge rarely listen to us at the front end

Atol changes risk being impractical for trade and complex for consumers, says Ken McLeod, SPAA president and Advantage director for industry affairs

Within the last couple of weeks, two consultations with proposals linked to the new Package Travel Directive (PTD) have been issued.

Despite a long wait for these consultations, it appears government is still unsure of how to deal with one of the most complex issues in travel.

Let’s be frank, neither the PTD nor the Atol system has worked entirely properly over the many years they have been in place. Now, once again, we are tinkering with a system that the travel trade, never mind the consumer, fails to fully understand or comply with.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has tried its best, and so has Abta, to get the public to be fully aware of the protection provided. However, the Monarch collapse and subsequent repatriation put paid to that.

No one is saying it wasn’t the correct decision to bring back all customers whether they were protected or not. But how can we convince clients now that they won’t be protected unless they book an Atol-approved holiday?


Some potential changes being suggested may make things clearer to the customer, but the practicalities may be more problematic.

The proposal that initial prices should show costs of baggage and transfers, rather than being offered for sale at a later date, could be a challenge.

However, the CAA will stop agents changing costs after the customer has requested a price because Atol-holders will have to confirm flights immediately.

There is also a proposal for a flightonly exemption where the ticket is paid in full in a single transaction and the airline honours the consumer or agent’s credit card. This assumes Iata rules will now sanction an agent’s card for payment, if the carrier allows it. However, I’m not aware of too many airlines that knowingly accept agents’ cards.

Plans for Atol Certificates to be issued online by the CAA sound sensible but, again, practicalities come to the fore. Inputting every Atol booking online can be achieved technically, but we will have to wait to see if everyone can operate that way.

When the new Atol scheme comes in on July 1 it may have been tweaked to become more robust, maybe more secure, but not necessarily more practical. The fundamental principles of keeping any consumer protection system simple in the eyes of the customer will probably not have been achieved.

And the impracticality of the tight timeline is simply unacceptable. Most firms in the industry will have very little time to amend processes to comply. There needs to be a transition period of six months.


I’ve been dealing with Atol for 15 years as a council member of both the Scottish Passengers Agents’ Association and the Association of Atol Companies. The simplest solution was suggested by both years ago: a £1 levy on every booking made by agents, tour operators and airlines. Only the airlines disagreed, and here we are 15 years later still trying to find an effective solution.

Complexity is the enemy of the consumer, and also the trade, but those in charge rarely listen to those of us at the front end.


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