I read Simon Calder’s Travel Weekly column on financial protection with interest. It’s a topic close to our hearts at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) as we guarantee that all of our operators’ wares are fully protected.
Simon is a well-respected commentator on the travel industry but he’s totally wrong on financial protection. He forgets that he’s an expert, and that the average consumer doesn’t understand the workings of the travel industry and what is or is not financially protected.
It’s like most of us trying to grasp the intricacies of mortgages – we take a look at it maybe once in every few years, not day in, day out, as a personal finance journalist would.
But even Simon overstretches his linsider knowledge when he says “I know if I buy a ticket for travel a year from now on any of them (British Airways, BMI, easyJet, Monarch, Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines), my money will be safe”.
Really? Who could have foreseen the recent collapse of Swissair, the national carrier of a hugely conservative country? And who would have thought that Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch would disappear or be bought in what was thought to be a far more stable industry than aviation?
Simon seems to have succumbed to the lobbying powers of the mighty airlines – and they would say that they are perfectly financially sound, wouldn’t they?
As for taking out an insurance policy “if I have any doubt about a particular carrier”, what tosh! If there is any doubt about a carrier, the insurance companies simply withdraw cover for that airline.
What we at AITO don’t understand is why the airlines bleat about the £1 levy as if they had to pay it out of their own pocket. It’s the passengers, not the airlines, who contribute – so, if the playing field were to be levelled, everyone would pay the same very modest amount.
Expecting, as Simon does, for the customer to “make it their business to understand rules on passenger protection” is totally unrealistic – many in the travel industry are confounded by the current situation and don’t understand the rules. Hence the pleas of AITO, ABTA, the FTO, the Air Transport Users’ Council and others for the Government to simplify financial protection and ensure that there aren’t, in future, two classes of passenger – those with protection and those without it.
I hope that Simon will, on reflection, agree that his insider knowledge puts him at an advantage, and that he’ll decide to support our joint aims. We need all the influential backers that we can get.
And don’t forget, the Government would have had a lot of egg on its face after XL’s collapse had not the traditional, fully-bonded sector of the travel industry rallied round to help with the repatriation of non-protected consumers. We may not be so keen to help next time around.
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