Aito demands government withdraw ‘misleading’ ash guidance

The Association of Independent Tour Operators has demanded the government withdraws “incorrect and misleading” guidance for the trade on compensation for consumers whose holidays were disrupted by the volcanic ash.

Having taken legal advice, the association, whose 140 members carry more than 900,000 customers a year, last week sent a letter to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

In the letter, Claire Ingleby, a partner at travel legal specialist MB Law, said the guidance concerning the Package Travel Regulations, which was released in June, was causing confusion on two points.

The first was whether future eruptions of the Icelandic volcano, and any resultant closure of UK airspace, were foreseeable, and therefore something operators should prepare for.

Ingleby argued: “Such is the nature and range of the factors that may result in an airspace closure…that foreseeing these closures would be virtually impossible. It is misleading to suggest otherwise.”

She also disputed whether the guidance concerning the responsibility of operators for stranded consumers’ accom-modation and other expenses in circumstances of ‘force majeure’ was clear, or even right.

Ingleby concluded by writing: “Both of the above highlighted elements of the guidance are incorrect and misleading. This being the case, the guidance needs to be immediately withdrawn and not republished until the relevant sections are redrafted so as to accurately reflect the legal position.”

Speaking to Travel Weekly, she added: “Lots of groups have vested interests in understanding the guidance in different ways so the government needs to give a bit
more clarification

“The guidance is misleading consumers into thinking they’ve got an easy ride [in the event of a problem] but that’s not the case.”

Aito membership manager Peter Burgess added: “It really brings home the fact that the situation does have to be looked at pretty clearly; if we’re getting lawyers disagreeing, then where does that leave us?”

The letter is the latest attempt by the travel industry to get some clarification from BIS concerning the guidance, which appears to contradict advice issued by Trading Standards (Travel Weekly, July 16).

Abta wrote to BIS on July 14 concerning the same issues. It has yet to receive a reply.

A spokesman added: “We are seeking clarification as there are points that could be misinterpreted or misunderstood.”

A BIS spokeswoman said: “We are currently considering the content of the letter from MB Law and will be replying in due course. “We have no plans at present to withdraw or change the guidance on the applicability of the Package Travel Regulations. 

“We are conscious that the disruption caused by the volcanic ash has highlighted some issues of interpretation of the Package Travel Regulations, and the European Directive that the regulations implement, on which different views may be possible.

“As the guidance makes clear, it represents the department’s view on these issues. The proper interpretation of the regulations is ultimately for the courts to decide.”

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