Package Travel Regulations, the law and the Covid-19 reality.

There is no holiday quite like the Trans Siberian Express. We booked through the Trans Siberian Co.

Cancelled travel during Covid or any crisis.

The Covid19 virus has affected all of us throughout the world, but how has it affected our rights? Many of us, including the authors of this blog have had their travel affected. In the United Kingdom, there is a clear, well defined law that states that if the holiday cannot be effected, then a full refund must be offered. Many companies are refunding in full, no matter what the consequences. I had three tickets booked on British Airways and Turkish Airlines. Turkish were much faster in issuing a full refund for my tickets. British Airways took longer, and tried to delay as much as possible, but when they were unable to operate the aircraft, they offered a full refund to my travel agent, Steamond Travel. Steamond, were superb, following the progress of tickets and emailing me when the refund was coming through.

Sadly not everyone has been as honourable. A quick scan of social media will show a slew of complaints against travel agencies. Many of who are ABTA members. It seems that a variety of prestigious well known British Travel Companies are bluntly refusing to refund their clients. Let us be absolutely clear about this; those companies are breaking the law. The Package Travel Regulations 2018 states that clients must be paid back in two weeks, if the journey cannot be effected.

ABTA’s Position

What was most disturbing was that ABTA seemed to be condoning their members breaking the law. On their website they made the following statement.

Complaints we can and can’t help with

Important note: It is virtually impossible for ABTA to effectively police Members on coronavirus-related complaints without action from the UK Government on regulations and requirements. For this reason, until we have clear guidance from Government, ABTA will be unable to take enforcement action against ABTA Members in regards to complaints relating to Coronavirus and the provision of refunds. We will continue to manage enquiries and complaints in relation to other queries, as normal.” See the photo below.

This morning everything seemed to have changed. ABTA had removed this wording and replaced it with a request for clients to be more “reasonable”. ABTA’s Chief Mark Tanzer told BBC Breakfast:

ABTA would take action against any member company offering only a voucher for future travel: “We absolutely reject the fact that firms should be denying their obligations under these rules. “They do owe the customers a refund. The customer has to have that right. We will make sure that Abta members follow that rule.”

You can see the full article by Simon Calder of the independent here. And you can see the interview with the boss of Mark Tanzer here. Sadly not all ABTA members are behaving correctly, and some of them are not listening. We cannot know why these companies will not pay out. Is it because their cash flow is so bad that they cannot pay, or are they simply ruthless? We will never know, but if it happens to you, you have recourse to report these companies to the HM Government. You can do so using this form.

Looking to the future- Booking your next holiday

The only thing I can take away from this whole episode, is that ABTA membership does not guarantee protection to the client, but the business. We do know that the UK’s Package Travel Regulations are some of the strictest in the world. So when I next look for my holiday, I will be looking for a safari with a small British company, with a proven track record of operating through this crisis without issue. I will be checking social media and reviews for any hint of non-payment of refunds. When I fly, love them or hate them I will happily book British Airways and Turkish Airlines again, as they both did the right thing and refunded me swiftly.

The Boeing 747-400 is the most majestic of Aircraft, and BA its most prestigious operator. Photo: F. Jah