Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association  president Joanne Dooey calls for consistency from airlines and operators

From the outset of this COVID-19 crisis, our travel agency members have worked tirelessly to keep customers fully informed and properly advised on their future holidays. Day in and day out, they have had a really tough task in persuading customers to transfer their holidays to a later date, rather than cancel. They have been consistent in encouraging clients to accept credit notes or refund vouchers, while often being harassed and abused by customers demanding cash refunds.

SPAA members understand the pressures facing our partners, but in many instances we have to question whether or not our partners really understand and appreciate ours. This is a time, more than any other any of us have experienced, when we should be working together and presenting a consistent and united front to our mutual customers. It’s a time when the travel agency community – the prime point of customer contact for all of us – should be seen as the best and most dependable way to book a holiday.

That we understand the pressures we all face should be in no doubt, as evidenced in our detailed letters to the Civil Aviation Authority; and the Scottish and UK Governments. With no income being generated and the moral dilemma of having to, in some cases, return cash to clients, the current situation cannot be allowed to continue. We are calling on our airline and operator partners to seriously address a number of related issues urgently, and provide the consistency of approach that can only benefit all of us.

  • Increasingly, we are spending time and effort in persuading a customer to accept a credit voucher for a future holiday, rather than a cash refund, but some clients who have booked direct with the tour operator are receiving an immediate cash refund which makes a nonsense of their policy. All tour operators need to agree to operate on a level playing field for all bookings.
  • Operators – as a group – need to reset balance due dates at 28 days, for at least the next three months. Balkan Holidays has set an example of how this can be achieved while the money remains Abta-protected.
  • It does not help when clients are being told by Abta that they can accept a voucher – valid until the end of July – but can then demand a full cash refund if they have not rebooked their holiday since, as it stands, the money will no longer be protected under the Atol protection scheme. Abta and the CAA need to urgently review the maximum validity of ‘financially protected’ vouchers, with the objective of extending it substantially.
  • Airlines are not offering cash refunds, but customers are increasingly aware of their rights and travel agents are left to face them and communicate this, often to be confronted with a very acrimonious response.  Our business travel agency members also face this issue with the airlines and refund delays, as they have clients on credit who have not paid for their journeys while the agent has had to issue and pay in advance for the travel via the BSP system. Airlines – as a group – need to act NOW in agreeing processes designed to expedite refunds to travel agencies and minimise the exposure of business travel agencies to outstanding debts accumulated by credit clients whose travel is disrupted.