Agents fear chaotic airport scenes could put ‘handbrake’ on summer bookings

Travel agents fear chaotic scenes at UK airports over half-term and the extended Jubilee bank holiday weekend could put the “handbrake” on further bookings for this year and damage the industry’s reputation.

Agents reported “significant” numbers of calls from clients about booked holidays following unexpected flight cancellations and media reports of holidaymakers unable to leave the UK or delayed coming home.

Airlines including easyJet, British Airways, Tui, Wizz Air and Vueling were among those to cancel flights over the weekend, with Gatwick, Bristol and Luton among the worst-affected airports.

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Advantage Travel Partnership said a third of calls to its members were from customers anxious about travel. Leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “Understandably customers are concerned about being able to travel without incident in the immediate future and in the summer. The current situation is damaging still-fragile customer confidence.”

She said booking volumes had not dipped, but admitted some members were now “being more selective about what and who they sell”.

EasyJet holidays has come under particularly heavy criticism from agents, who struggled to contact the operator and bemoaned the lack of staff able to help clients at the airport.

However, the operator has since issued a letter to travel agents reassuring them that it will be honouring any agent commission for bookings that have been cancelled within 48 hours of departure.

Resfeber Travel in Gloucester had taken easyJet holidays off sale. Director Arron Mitchell said: “I’ve seen what is happening at Bristol airport for myself. I cannot risk putting our customers through that.”

Triangle Travel manager Jessica Munday said she attempted 104 calls to easyJet holidays’ helpline over 27 hours before getting through after her own flight to Bodrum in Turkey from Gatwick was cancelled on Saturday. She said: “It was carnage. There need to be contingency plans.”

Carolyn Park, director at C The World, was hopeful companies would be more organised by summer, but conceded: “I think this will put a handbrake on people booking last minute, or they’ll switch to cruise.

“We’re getting calls from clients due to travel in August. Agents are picking up the mess.”

Launceston Travel proprietor Julie Bickle agreed, saying: “It’s having a knock-on effect.”

Sara Spillard, owner of Dartmouth Travel, called on Abta to do more to protect the industry’s reputation.

She said: “My worry is confidence in the industry will go. People are booking with us in good faith but this is out of our control. This is putting clients off booking.”

But Holidaysplease managing director Richard Dixon stressed: “While the disruption is frustrating for us and obviously deeply upsetting for affected customers, in reality only a very small percentage of our customers are affected.”

He said “some” customers were reconsidering their options but the “vast majority” were determined to travel. Bookings for July and August represented more than 30% of total May sales, “much higher” than normal for that month, he said.

In response to criticism, easyJet holidays said it had updated its dedicated travel partners Facebook page to let agents know it would contact customers and agents as soon as it could with holiday alternatives.

A spokeswoman said: “In fast- moving situations such as this, it’s always our top priority to get in touch with our customers directly in the first instance, to ensure they have accurate information. We also share these communications with our agent partners, to ensure they are updated.”

British Airways said it had been “as proactive as possible” to ensure the trade had advance notice of cancellations.

Tui apologised for its cancellations and delays. A spokeswoman said: “We can reassure our customers and travel agent partners that this was an extraordinary situation, and most of our flights are now operating as normal.”

The company stressed it was vital agents passed on clients’ contact details so it could contact holidaymakers directly about any cancellations or delays and stressed agents would still be paid commission on cancelled bookings. A spokeswoman said: “When it comes to supporting our travel agent partners, if we had to cancel a holiday, we are still paying agents’ commission so that they don’t lose out.”

MoreAito chief hits out at government ‘buck passing’

Wizz Air boosts staffing levels in bid to minimise disruption

Aviation sector recovery ‘could take up to 18 months’

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