Agents and operators battle to find customers alternative travel arrangements – and some cover the cost themselves. By Juliet Dennis

The Monarch collapse has been the biggest and most complex failure the trade has ever had to deal with, industry figures say.

Agents and operators worked round the clock to help thousands of clients following the airline’s failure in the early hours of Monday.

Many worked through the night to prepare for the aftermath of the collapse and battled to rebook suitable alternative flights and holidays for clients.

Midcounties Co-operative Travel, which had around 3,000 customers affected, said the mopping up operation had become “unnecessarily tough” due to tight availability and price hikes.

Alternative holidays were more than 10% more expensive, making rebookings “less likely”, said Alistair Rowland, group general manager for specialist retail.

He said: “This will cause more disharmony than anybody could have expected. This failure is more significant for us than XL’s [in 2008].”

An added complication has been in-resort clients being asked to foot their hotel bill because their hotelier had not been paid by Monarch, he said.

Carrick Travel had around 120 forward bookings affected, including a group of 15 due to fly from Birmingham with Monarch Airlines to Lisbon this weekend on a golf trip organised under the agency’s Atol. The group now has to fly from Heathrow and return on two separate flights.

Director Tracey Carter said: “We’ve had some challenging situations. Availability is a struggle and some people will cancel.”

Bailey’s Travel is covering the cost of rebookings for its customers, but managing director Chris Bailey said: “It’s a mess and we are doing a huge amount of work for no income. We will lose money.”

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said the failure had effectively “stress‑tested” all types of Atol protection and insurance. The group called in a 14-strong team on Sunday to prepare to help members deal with the crisis.

He said: “There are layers of complexity in this failure because you have Flight-Plus bookings, dynamic packages and packages.”

Advantage Travel Partnership set up a Monarch advice ‘hotline’ for members, while Travel Counsellors formed a 40-strong crisis team to support its agents.

Andy Stark, managing director of The Global Travel Group, added: “This situation underlines the value of the agent and the support of a consortium.”

Operators with clients on Monarch flights also pulled out all the stops. Classic Collection boss Nick Munday bought alternative flights for three clients as soon as he got confirmation of Monarch’s failure at 4am on Monday. They had been due to fly by 7am that day.

Kirker Holidays had more than 100 clients affected and is covering the rebooking costs.

Agents criticise CAA for providing claims forms ‘late’

Agents’ ability to help customers following the collapse of Monarch Airlines was hampered by the initial lack of claim forms from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Usually after a failure, forms are soon available online so clients can apply for a refund.

Advantage Travel Partnership managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “All agents want to do is manage the process as well as they can.

“They are in the line of fire and this is a difficult situation compounded by the lack of claim forms being in place. It’s bottlenecking the process.”

Alistair Rowland, Midcounties Co-operative group general manager for specialist retail, said the issue had been an added frustration for agents.

The CAA said it would send an email to agents and customers with claim forms but was unable to say when this would be as Travel Weekly went to press.

A CAA spokesman said the regulator had taken this approach due to the scale of the collapse and potential impact of so many consumers filling in forms on its website.