Abta continues to press for an extension of the deadline for issuing Refund Credit Notes for cancellations due to Covid, after the CAA extended the deadline to January 31 just before Christmas.

John de Vial, Abta head of financial services, confirmed “we are pressing” the CAA and Air Travel Trust fund trustees “to extend [the deadline] to the end of March and to align with the Abta deadline”.

De Vial told an Elman Wall Covid-19 webinar: “The Refund Credit Note [RCN] regime has been absolutely critical.”

The CAA confirmed on December 22 that RCNs could be issued for cancelled packages up to January 31, moving the deadline back by a month.

It was the second change of deadline since the government and CAA confirmed the financial protection of RCNs for Atol bookings in mid-July.

The initial deadline for issuing RCNs was September 30 – a deadline that was not extended until October 23.

De Vial said: “We came very close to the wire with the CAA at the end of December. There was a last-minute review and an extension to the end of January.”

But he said: “There is more and more concern around Easter and early summer with all the signalling coming from the government. It seems more and more likely we’ll need a review and that deadline extended again.”

Abta has argued throughout the pandemic for the CAA-Air Travel Trust guarantee to align with its own guarantee for non-Atol packages.

The association believes RCNs for Atol bookings, issued correctly to consumers who are happy to accept them, require protection under existing Atol rules.

De Vial noted: “The messaging coming from the government now is perversely helpful.”

He told the webinar: “We have sectors that are still completely out of it. We have that with cruise and we have it with schools. These sectors are suffering badly.

“We are trying to make progress [on a relaxation of Foreign Office advice against cruise travel] with a government that is very cautious.”

De Vial added: “When they say they are working at pace, it rings an alarm bell.”

He warned that the March Atol and Abta-bonding renewals could be tough following a “painful” September-renewals process, saying: “The bond markets don’t get any easier.

“The vast majority of our members have been able to get bond renewals, but it has been painful.

“I fear March will be no easier because people will continue to issue RCNs for cancellations and the CAA is becoming more and more concerned about some license holders as it becomes clear early summer could be affected more than any of us would wish.”

De Vial also acknowledged Abta has struggled to cope with the level of demand from members, saying: “We’ve struggled on time and resource as people understandably want to re-forecast [their financial projections].”