Government proposals for Atol reform will reverse the Travel Republic court victory over the Civil Aviation Authority in 2010 and make agents quasi tour operators, the UK’s leading travel law professor said last night.
Professor David Grant said: “The Travel Republic case ran a horse and cart through the protection offered by the Package Travel Directive and the Atol scheme.”
The proposals for a flight-plus Atol, announced last week by aviation minister Theresa Villiers, would “have the effect of reversing the Travel Republic decision and protecting the consumer against insolvency”, Grant said.
In a speech at Leeds Metropolitan University, he explained: “The Travel Republic case [in the Divisional Court] confirmed a decision of Westminster Magistrates Court that where a consumer purchases travel arrangements from an internet travel agent, if the components are not part of a ‘combination’, this does not amount to a package [holiday].”
Describing the flight-plus proposals of Villiers, Grant said: “They seem to mean travel agents will become quasi tour operators and, where one of their suppliers goes bust, the travel agent will have to pick up the pieces.”
He said reform was important because the problems that led to consumer protection and to regulation by Europe through the Package Travel Directive (PTD) “had not gone away”, despite the vast increase in independent travel.
Grant identified those problems as: “Being stranded abroad by travel company insolvencies, defaults by foreign suppliers with whom the consumer has no contract, being injured abroad, and the need to find a defendant who is accessible and upon whom liability can be imposed [when something goes wrong].”
He said further change would come with a European Commission review of the 21-year old PTD, saying: “Officials in Brussels seem willing to make reforms . . . [that] will look at: dynamic packaging, strict liability for the defaults of suppliers, joint liability for travel agents and tour operators, and clarifying the rules on the provision of assistance to consumers in difficulty.”
However, Grant suggested ‘click through’ sales – when a consumer buys a flight from an airline website and then clicks through to the site of another travel provider – will probably remain outside both the Atol scheme and the PTD “because of the difficulty of framing legislation to cover the myriad ways in which click-throughs work in practice”.
Grant was speaking in his position as Vantage Insurance Visiting Professor of Law at Leeds Metropolitan. A former professor of law at Northumbria University, Grant publishes the Travel Law Quarterly and is joint author with Stephen Mason of the book Holiday Law: the Law Relating to Travel and Tourism.