Whose money is it?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

I can’t say that I was surprised to read that ABTA – the trade union for travel agents and travel companies – has received some very low scores on Trustpilot for its customer service reactions.

At the time of writing it had one star with 97% of the 120 reviewers rating it as “bad.”

Usually I rail against review sites, urging people to check over a period of time and not just large spikes in comments.

But these ratings aren’t just based on the months connected with coronavirus. They stretch back over a year or so. And still ABTA can’t manage more than a one star!

The present problems stem from a slowness in returning money to people booking holidays and flights. ABTA hasn’t helped itself by its attitude urging passengers to be patient without properly explaining why passengers shouldn’t get their own money back.

Claiming, as Mark Tanzer – the head of ABTA – did to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport this week that if the government didn’t give more time to pay monies back it should fund the payments itself won’t have endeared ABTA to the committee or the government.

There is a case for extending the time due for repayment just based on the number of refunds that must be due. The regulator, the CAA – has proved pretty toothless in getting airlines and tour operators to give compensation under EU261 over the years so it seems unlikely that they will ride to the defence of consumers as any number of firms of lawyers will tell you. Getting people back when a company collapses is fine but supporting them day-on-day seems beyond them.

The travel industry has never seemed to have considered ring-fencing customer’s money until the holiday of flight was completed as happens when people buy houses and monies are held in escrow. Forgive me, regular readers, for I raised this very point only a few weeks ago but it needs to be said again.

cartoon of angry suitcase
Its our money so why can’t we get it back? Because it has been spent? © Dan Sperrin

The way travel companies function has to alter. And the regulator needs to be independent of the industry.

And one of the first things that could happen is for ABTA to be recognised that it stands for the travel industry and not the consumer. That its online disputes resolution is resolved by just one company that ABTA hired and not a selection of companies and that a new customer advice body is needed perhaps along the lines of Passenger Focus.

Tanzer and ABTA’s attitude throughout this whole sorry saga has probably made those changes come a little closer.


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