UK and EU package travel rules set to diverge, warns Abta

Package travel rules in the UK and EU look set to diverge, Abta has warned, after the UK government confirmed limited changes to the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) in April when the EC plans a “fundamental” review of the European Package Travel Directive (PTD).

Luke Petherbridge, Abta head of public affairs, described the European Commission’s review of the PTD as “very broad” and Abta lead solicitor Paula Macfarlane told an Abta Travel Law conference yesterday: “The EU is looking at a fundamental review.”

By contrast, Macfarlane said: “The UK is looking to simplify [the PTRs].” She noted the Department for Business (BEIS) reported in April there would be “no wholesale change” to the PTRs but merely “small improvements” and warned: “It could lead to a divergence.”

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BEIS issued an extensive report on ‘Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy’ last month which spelled out limited changes to the PTRs following an informal industry consultation last summer.

These will be restricted to changing the PTR information requirements, “improving the flexibility of insolvency protection provisions”, simplifying the definition of Linked Travel Arrangements (LTAs) which are rarely used, clarifying when a travel service other than a flight forms a package and issuing guidance for consumers.

However, an EC consultation on PTD reform, on which the UK PTRs 2018 are based, proposes fundamental changes.

These include not only a possible revision of the definition of a package, but also a series of proposals on cancellations and refunds including whether “organisers have the right to a refund against service providers such as airlines”.

It asks: “Should the PTD specify that organisers may issue vouchers instead of a refund provided travellers agree”, and “should the PTD regulate the consequences of official travel warnings.”

Other proposals include restrictions on or even prohibition of pre-payments

The EC consultation, issued in February, ends today (May 10).

Petherbridge told the Abta Travel Law conference in London: “The EU comes at the issue from a very pro-consumer stance.”

He noted the EU will look at insolvency protection, the issue of vouchers and “whether there is a need for new regulations to ensure vouchers will be protected”, plus whether there is a need for a pan-European crisis fund.

Petherbridge pointed out: “The 14-day refunds timeframe was a big challenge early in the pandemic. It was accepted by enforcement bodies and regulators that 14 days was not realistic, but that enraged consumer bodies.”

The EC intends to adopt new proposals by the end of this year and “the ordinary legislative process would take 18 months”, said Petherbridge.

He added: “We would hope there would be a bit of rebalancing of the burden on travel businesses, but the European Parliament will look at this through a consumer lens and I’m not aware of any time the Parliament has watered down consumer regulations.”

European elections are due in May 2024 and Petherbridge said: “I would expect the Parliament and EC will attempt to show a win for consumers before the election”.

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