We see this as a big step forward.” That was the opinion of the legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies on the much-awaited Airline Insolvency Review. Whether it receives quite such a positive response from others in the sector, however, remains to be seen.
On the face of it, it’s difficult not to welcome such a strong recommendation to the government to boost consumer protection – namely in the form of the proposed new Flight Protection Scheme.
The Airline Insolvency Review suggests all non-Atol passengers pay 49p per seat, which would fund only their repatriation should their airline fail. The Atol scheme would continue separately, albeit with a proposal that Atol Protection Contribution payments (currently £2.50 per passenger) could be altered, potentially according to a company’s financial risk or holiday type.
So far, so good. But what, then, does this really mean for Atol?
If customers knew one levy cost £2.50 and the other 49p (with admittedly less financial protection), then this could have damaging repercussions for travel companies that have previously used their Atol badges as a USP, something chair of the review Peter Bucks told TTG he was acutely aware of.
As Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, has previously pointed out to TTG, a move to protect all air tickets could “risk devaluing existing financial protections”.
Of course, this may all be moot. Airlines that avidly opposed joining the Atol scheme before are unlikely to jump for joy at the proposed Flight Protection Scheme – and will make their voices heard.
Either way, increased consumer protection should always take priority – the route this takes, though, should work for the industry and consumers alike.