CAA marks 50 years since launch of Atol scheme

The Civil Aviation Authority will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Atol scheme and the millions of consumers it has protected from travel company failures this week.

The CAA plans a campaign to promote consumer awareness of Atol and the financial protection it provides for flight-based package holidays through the rest of this year and into the January 2024 peak booking period.

The Atol scheme came into force in the summer of 1973, with the CAA calculating about 1.7 million UK consumers have received refunds on bookings after travel businesses failed since 2000 alone. It notes more than 240,000 holidaymakers have been repatriated from overseas using Atol funds in the same period.

In fact, the CAA has had to deal with three major failures in just the last 15 years. XL Leisure Group’s collapse in September 2008 required 85,000 be repatriated and 200,000 paid refunds. The Monarch Airlines Group failure in October 2017 saw 110,000 repatriated – in what was then the largest repatriation since the Second World War – and more than 53,000 Atol refunds.

More: Atol reform: Segregation of customer payments ‘not off the table’

But the liquidation of Thomas Cook Group in September 2019 exceeded all records, with more than 140,000 requiring repatriation and in excess of 800,000 refunds.

These last two failures and the resulting repatriations saw the CAA’s Atol team deploy a total of 150 aircraft, operating almost 750 flights from 55 destinations to bring holidaymakers home.

The CAA notes Atol protected more than 26 million holidaymakers booking flight-inclusive packages worth close to £28 billion in the most recent 12-month licensing period.

Paul Smith, interim-joint chief executive at the CAA, said: “It’s been an incredible 50 years for the Atol scheme and, while the sector has changed since 1973, Atol has remained a vital companion financially protecting millions of consumers, providing much-needed support when their holiday company ceased to trade.”

He noted: “Booking a package financially protected by Atol continues to offer reassurance to consumers that, should the worst happen, they will be helped to get home and not left out of pocket.”

Despite all the changes in the industry, there are more than 1,600 Atol holders today compared with just 274 in the scheme’s first year.

The CAA is expected to publish a consultation on substantial Atol reforms later this year which could come into force as early as next April.

More: Atol reform: Segregation of customer payments ‘not off the table’

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