Aito urges government to ‘get tough’ on airlines over refunds

Aito has urged the government to “get tough” on airlines to allow tour operators to secure refunds for flights to Israel affected by the Foreign Office’s advice against travel.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s (FCDO) advised against all but essential travel to parts of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in October last year as a result of the Gaza conflict.

Under the UK Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), holidaymakers can cancel a package booking in the event of “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” in a destination and are entitled to a full refund. In 2020, Abta confirmed its members must offer clients full refunds on packages when the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to a destination.

The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) said operator members with bookings to Israel had refunded clients when the advice changed but had been unable to secure a refund for the flight element of the package from the relevant airline.

Aito executive director Martyn Sumners questioned the fact airlines could continue to fly despite government advice against travel and refuse to refund operators – a problem which also reared its head during the Covid pandemic.

He said: “Is it right that airlines can continue to operate against FCDO advice leaving tour operators out of pocket when customers are afraid to travel? This happened during the pandemic and still continues. The government has to get tough on the airlines.”

At this week’s AGM, Aito chairman Chris Rowles expressed frustration that holidaymakers who booked components independently would be more likely to get money back from their insurance company, whereas package holiday customers would be told by insurers to seek a refund from the tour operator.

He stressed the need for a change to the PTRs where operators could not get their money back from suppliers such as airlines or hotels.

“If something goes wrong we [tour operators] have to pay and we don’t get that money back from suppliers but we believe travel insurance should take precedence. That means a change to the PTRs,” he said.

Deputy chairman Martin Garland agreed: “We want the insurer to be the first port of call.”

Aito member Cyplon Holidays eventually managed to secure a voucher from an airline after being refused a refund following the change in advice for travel from the UK to Israel.

Managing director Harry Hajipapas said: “First of all the airline said it would charge us £100 per person for the cancellation and then the airline offered a voucher in the passenger’s name.

“We managed to convince the airline that the passenger did not want to travel there again and so they offered a voucher which we can use in the next two years for any of our passengers.”

He added: “The PTRs are not fit for purpose. We, as tour operators, always take the hit.”

With the escalation in tensions in the Middle East, and the likelihood of further airlines halting operations, Sumners said he was more hopeful members would be refunded.

EasyJet has now cancelled flights to and from Tel Aviv for the whole of the summer, citing safety concerns following Iran’s drone and missile attack on the country.

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