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How data protection law can end holiday romance

Agents are often asked to reunite lovestruck holidaymakers - but handle it the wrong way and you could end up in troubleLOVE really was in the air when Michael Young sat next to Juliet Lever on a flight from Belfast to Newcastle last year.

The couple hit it off instantly – so much so that Michael pretended to have luggage so that he could spend more time with Juliet at the baggage reclaim.

However, the pair didn’t swap contact details. As Michael, 33, couldn’t stop thinking about Juliet over the next few days, the businessman decided to ring the budget airline, Flybe, to see if they could put him in touch with the girl from seat 2B.

“Michael saw us as his last hope,” said Flybe customer relations manager Ella Jones. “His tale pulled a few heart strings so we wrote to Juliet asking her if she wanted to be put in touch with Michael.”

Once Flybe’s letter had made its way to her, Juliet, a 29-year-old solicitor, called Michael and the couple met up the following evening.

Flybe said it is not often they receive requests of this kind, but that they were happy to help out because Michael seemed genuine.

However, Kosmar overseas manager  Tracy Sharp, said they often have people contacting them asking to be put in touch with someone they met on a flight or on holiday.

Kosmar even had a similar request last month. “I had an e-mail from a guy who said he had met a superb young lady on an inbound flight,” said Sharp. “The e-mail he sent me was titled ‘Please can you help me, in the name of romance?’”

All the information the man could provide on his fellow passenger was her seat number, age and where she lived. On this instance, Sharp said they declined to pass on any details. “He got a standard response saying that for security and data protection reasons, we couldn’t release that information.”

“When a traveller knows a fair bit about the person they want to get in touch with and the request is straightforward we usually comply,” Sharp said.

The golden rule is to only pass the enquirer’s information on to the person in question and leave it up to them to decide whether or not to get in touch. “We will never divulge any information to the person looking for them,” said Sharp. “You have to respect people’s privacy.”

It would also leave you on very dodgy legal ground if you were to pass on details to a third party, as Halliwells professional support lawyer Chris Davies explains. “You should not give out personal details you hold about one individual to another without their express consent,” he said. “It represents a breach of confidentiality.”

If a person had not given their consent, they might bring an action against your organisation for damages and it could leave you open to a charge of having breached data protection legislation. “Ultimately, this could lead to a criminal conviction and a fine,” said Davies.

It also wouldn’t do your organisation’s reputation much good if it became publicly known that you had passed on confidential information about a passenger to a third party.

“You should consider the circumstances behind any request for data held and remember the duty of confidentiality,” said Davies. “Flybe dealt with it in a sympathetic manner and that led to a happy ending.”

The happy ending was not only for Michael and Juliet, who are getting married next month. The story also generated a lot of positive publicity for Flybe.

There’s nothing like lending a hand in the course of true love to endorse the feel-good holiday factor that reflects well on any travel organisation.

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