Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fears over serious breakdown in travel protection

Which? is warning the Government not to use the coronavirus crisis as an 'excuse to undermine consumer protections'.

The consumer group said it has been inundated with messages and requests for help from people who face losing large sums, with some airlines and package travel providers refusing to meet their legal obligations to issue refunds for cancelled flights and holidays.

It says many customers are unhappy that they've been offers vouchers instead of refunds, while others have 'fallen foul of little-known exclusions in insurance policies - meaning they were not covered for cancelling an upcoming trip, even after the FCO advised against travel to their destination'.

Others are concerned that they will be uninsured for upcoming trips booked well before the coronavirus outbreak as insurers make sudden changes to their policy terms and conditions.

Which? said: "Faced with these difficulties, many people are finding themselves pushed from pillar to post between airlines, tour operators and insurance companies - whose policies are not set up for providers failing to fulfil their duties in this way.

"Taken together, these issues represent a serious breakdown of the current system of travel protections, which is vital to ensuring millions of consumers have the confidence to book expensive holidays and flights abroad.

"Urgent action is needed to protect consumers amid the crisis in the travel industry. It is vital that any emergency measures under discussion, such as credit notes replacing refunds for package holidays, include strong guarantees or protections so consumers know they are not at risk of losing their money if a travel firm fails.

"And while consumers with holidays booked under the current regulations may choose to accept a credit note, their right to claim a refund must not be taken away retrospectively by any changes to the law.

"The hard-earned money of thousands of holidaymakers - who may be facing difficulty themselves - must not be used as a backdoor bailout of the travel industry, when direct government support is being used in other sectors.

"While the current uncertainty continues, airlines must respond swiftly to this fast-moving situation by informing passengers about what is happening with future flights, and show flexibility with rebooking options if a flight has not been cancelled.

"Insurers must also heed last week's warning from the FCA about treating customers fairly and work with the government and travel industry on solutions to tackle the coronavirus crisis, as the public must have confidence that they will be covered when they travel."

Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said: "It's vital that the government, insurers and the travel sector work together to tackle the huge challenge posed by coronavirus, as the travel industry depends on people having confidence that they will be protected in times of crisis."



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