Carriers must help agent partners for industry to regain consumer trust, says Swords Travel co-director Mark Swords

Airlines have always had a very strict and non-negotiable way of working. Thinking back to my days as a flight consultant at Thomas Cook, I remember how if I made the slightest mistake with a name or itinerary, the cost implications could be massive.

Now, 14 years later, sadly little has changed. Clients, agents and tour operators are still being penalised by airlines that offer little flexibility or support.

One of the biggest challenges for us during this period – and I’m sure even more so for tour operators – is how very inflexible airlines have been. In fact, at some points, they have damn right taken advantage of their partners.

“Thinking back to my days as a flight consultant at Thomas Cook, I remember how if I made the slightest mistake with a name or itinerary, the cost implications could be massive.”

You would think that as a travel industry, we would all be in this together, but my experience is that airlines see the situation as everyone for themselves. We’ve had no end of airlines refuse refunds, be non‑flexible on amendments and not decide to review ticket deadlines until we are eight months into the crisis.

By comparison, most hotels, agents, tour operators and transfer companies have bent over backwards to help clients move bookings – all to save the business and not lose another booking.

However, whatever travel business I speak to, most say that airlines’ old‑school, restrictive ways of working are an issue.

Plane stupid

Another bugbear is the that certain airlines which sell their own holidays consistently trash the market by giving the flights away and just making margin on the accommodation. How can these airlines call themselves partners to tour operators and agents? In my eyes, it’s no way to treat a partner in a business relationship.

“Airlines should manage their cashflow via a trust so customers can get their money back; they should work with their ‘partners’ to actually help them rather than hinder them.”

We have a great relationship with all of our tour operators, and I feel for them during this crisis, as they have borne the brunt of it. The problem of airlines refusing to pay refunds but operators still being liable to do so is due to crazy PTR regulations that weren’t designed for such a catastrophe.

Ultimately, it’s time that the government held these airlines to account. Airlines should manage their cashflow via a trust so customers can get their money back; they should work with their ‘partners’ to actually help them rather than hinder them; and they should stop trashing the market with direct pricing that is unsustainable and cheapens what we do.

Positive news

In the current crisis, airlines, tour operators and agents really need to work in sync to secure as many bookings as possible and restore confidence in our industry. The media has already had a field day with bad news about travel, so why not give it some positive news to report – that we are being ultra‑flexible to support future travel? As I write this, BA has just released a 14‑day ticket deadline for existing bookings – why can’t BA and other scheduled airlines make this a permanent feature to support new business?

“The media has already had a field day with bad news about travel, so why not give it some positive news to report – that we are being ultra‑flexible to support future travel?”

And why can’t the low‑cost carriers offer a deposit fare rather than full payment only? It’s time for airlines to be more forward‑thinking and to support their partners and mutual customers.


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Familiar faces on the road 

It’s been so nice to see some familiar faces pop into the store for a coffee in the past couple of weeks. In the last week alone we’ve been visited by John Warr of Wendy Wu Tours, Susan O’Brien from Susan Presents, Sam Williams of Four Corners Marketing, Kelly from GP Associates and Anna Baccanello from Azure.

It’s been so nice to catch up and see that these businesses are alive and out there actively promoting themselves. After all, who isn’t sick of Zoom by now? It’s so good to have face‑to‑face interaction.

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