The Civil Aviation Authority is close to clarifying its policy on refunds for bookings with the failed Freedom Flights. But ABTA expressed anger at the continuing delay.
The CAA began processing claims in late October after XL Leisure Group and its seat-only operator Freedom Flights collapsed in September. It has already paid out to some passengers, but retailers remain in the dark about whether claims will be paid.
ABTA head of legal services Simon Bunce said: “We are three months down the line, when retailers should know immediately if claims will be paid. There is a lot of bad feeling about the lack of clarity.”
Tour operators expect to reimburse clients rather than claim from the CAA following the collapse of an ATOL-holding partner such as a seat-only operator.
However, some ATOL-holders are concerned non-ATOL holders may be reimbursed while they are left out of pocket.
The CAA has made clear it will refund seat-only sales. The issue is whether it pays out to non-ATOL retailers that have sold flights and accommodation.
It is likely a CAA announcement will come in conjunction with notice of enforcement action against companies believed to be in breach of ATOL regulations and government guidance published in January.
A CAA spokesman said: “We do not want uncertainty about enforcement action following an announcement about claims.” He added: “We are still a long way from having all the claims, particularly from agents.”
Consumer protection group officials at the CAA continue to take legal advice on potential action.
But Bunce believes there is a bigger issue than payment of claims. “The question is what can be done to end the confusion,” he said. “It is a mess I cannot see being resolved soon.”
TUI Travel chief executive Peter Long met transport secretary Geoff Hoon last week to lobby for wider consumer protection.
Long said: “The secretary of state acknowledged the current regulatory position is complex and confusing for customers and needs to be addressed.”