Q: What rights do travellers have when all UK flights are grounded?
A: It depends how they booked their trip...
As hundreds of thousands of passengers are grounded by the volcanic ash smothering UK airspace, the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO, www.aito.com) comments on the rights of travellers booked via tour operators versus the lack of options for those who’ve booked on a DIY basis The complete closure of UK airspace is reminiscent of 9/11, back in 2001, and has taken the travel industry by complete surprise today.
While DIY bookers are scrambling to try to alter their accommodation and car hire contracts, those who booked with an AITO tour operator will have been contacted by the tour operator to find out their preferred options. Booking with a tour operator means that the tour operator takes the strain – both financial and in terms of working around the clock to find travel alternatives.
Says AITO chairman Derek Moore: “It’s at times like this when consumers really understand the huge added value of booking their holidays through a tour operator – they get the best possible service in a very difficult travel environment.”
AITO tour operators abide by the EU Travel Package Regulations. They either deliver the holiday to their customers’ satisfaction – perhaps delayed by a day due to extenuating circumstances - or, if they cannot do so, they will refund the full cost.
Says Moore: “Many travellers who were unable to return to the UK today are being accommodated abroad at the expense of AITO members”.
Those travellers who booked independently on a DIY basis are the ones likely to face problems; their separate car hire and hotel contracts mean they are at the mercy of their suppliers, who are within their rights to demand payment whether or not the traveller can get to his or her destination.And if they need to stay abroad for an extra night or more, it will be at the DIY booker’s own expense.
Derek Moore comments: “This situation is incredibly rare. The usual problem for the industry is a strike, fog or an airline folding so normally tour operators would book their customers on to other airlines (at the operators’ own expense). In this case, no flights are available. I’ve heard from AITO members today that they are offering their customers the option of ferries and Eurostar to get to their European destinations. What you won’t hear AITO members doing is abandoning their passengers. They will do their utmost to make alternative travel arrangements. Tour operators take complete responsibility for holidays when something goes awry and, when a problem of this magnitude rears its head, you want the reassurance of a professional who knows what they are doing looking after your holiday. It is worth remembering that amidst the frustration of ruined travel plans, the airlines and authorities are acting in the best interests of passengers’ safety as it is always of paramount importance.”
For more information on AITO and its 140 knowledgeable and specialist holiday companies, and the extremely wide range of holiday destinations and holiday styles offered (from relaxing to active, from short break to trip-of-a-lifetime, encompassing culture, adventure and much more), complete with high levels of personal service and that all-important volcanic ash protection, strike, and airline failure protection back-up, visit www.aito.com.