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Published on Monday, May 18, 2020

Agents suffer abuse over refund delays, and not just from customers

As Covid-19 refund delays continue, and with still no clear direction from the UK Government, there's been no let-up for travel agents and operators on the front line.

AITO executive director Martyn Sumners said last week the Government's inaction, alongside endless haranguing by consumer bodies such as Which?, has fuelled mistrust and anger among customers and led to travel staff being verbally abused.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer admitted his correspondence is full of messages from angry Brits who feel the association has betrayed them by not forcing companies to give refunds within 14 days.

Even Sunvil Holidays chairman Noel Josephides, the kindhearted, softly-spoken former ABTA chairman, was shouted at by a customer over the phone and called a 'nasty little man' when he stepped in to deal with a disgruntled customer.

While agents report their clients have been largely understanding and sympathetic, some agents say they're regular coming under fire for delays they have no control over.

We spoke to four travel professionals on the front line who say they are struggling to cope with the pressure, including one who works for a large travel agency chain and said the abuse is coming not from customers but from fellow agents within the company.

Understandably, all of them asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

I work for head office of a travel agents and the abuse I have received has been horrendous from the agents. I'd understand customers' anger but not from our own agents. The shouting down the phone from one agent was so bad that my husband came in from the other side of the house and ended the call and said 'resign immediately you shouldn't be spoken to like that'. I have been in constant stress and tears for weeks and so far nothing has been offered or even a thank you.

The ones that have been this bad have been due to them wanting instant action but which I can't provide due to staff shortages. They wanted me to chase instant refunds but I was drowning in other work so couldn't drop everything, and when I tried to explain this to manage expectations I was told it wasn't good enough.

Management have done absolutely nothing other than saying 'don't put up with it'. I have seen the selling staff have constant praise, thank yous, videos produced by senior managers saying how wonderful they are, yet myself and the team in head office are working longer hours than normal with no breaks and less staff and have not even heard from management, unless it is an email wanting information or emails for something we have done wrong.

My job is quite stressful in general but usually I love it, but the way myself and the team have been spoken to by travel staff this time has made me ill. I have been in tears constantly and have come seriously close to a breakdown due to the pressure and will definitely be looking for another job once all this is over.

Although the vast majority of my personal clients have been lovely and understanding, I've also had an awful lot that have given me endless stick and verbal abuse. It's been crazy. There have been no threats, as such, but there's been lots of shouting and swearing and screaming down the phone. Examples of things I've been told include that I was acting inhumanely, that I was lying, that I was holding on to their money, that they hoped my company went bust, that I was acting unlawfully, that they would take my company to court, that they'd 'get me back', that I'd 'regret this decision', or I was 'messing with the wrong person'. There were lots of threats of being taken to court as well. I do believe this was more aimed at the company rather than me personally, but I had people saying I will take you to court so it could be interpreted either way. Whilst I was still employed (I'm now furloughed) my employer was supportive and told all frontline staff that if we have people quoting the law at us to refer them to customer relations, but a lot of customers wouldn't accept that. My own clients were lovely and incredibly supportive of me, telling me that they sincerely hoped my company would pull through the crisis when the situation got worse and that my job would be safe etc. These threats and nasty comments never came from my clients, they all came from angry clients that had booked with other people within my company and just happened to come through to me on the phone. I am worried for my company, as we all are throughout this crisis, and I know that I do not have a job to go back to once the furlough scheme ends as it is in July, because I know that my company won't pay out for the vast majority of us, so I know I will be let go at the end of July.

I've suffered some vile abuse. I've been called a thief, a liar, I've been accused of fraud, told my name will be blackened across social media, and I've lost count of the times people have quoted Section 75 at me. If I can get through a day without some kind of abuse then I feel lucky. It's got to the stage when every morning I don't want to turn my computer on. I'm lucky because most of my clients have been really sweet but I'm dealing with some customers who were booked by a former member of staff who was let go because she wasn't compliant. I know agents who have had worse - one has even had her shop and car windows smashed. I do pity the customers because they've worked hard for their holidays, but they're getting so much wrong information and there's been no-one giving any direction from our side and a total lack of clarity about refunds. It's been a shambles. It seems to be a case of every man for himself. The consumers have got the likes of Martin Lewis and Simon Calder but we need somebody to represent us. We need a presence.


The majority of my clients are fine, as I have been dealing with them all for years, but a couple are worried from hearing things on the news about refund. The media aren't helping either. They aren't being abusive or blaming me, they are just worried. Clients are starting to get difficult waiting for refunds but it's the operators who are at fault. The worst being TUI. They don't even send out email notifications for individual bookings to tell customers their holiday is cancelled. We only know by looking at Travelmole or at Advantage social media. Then when you do get on the phone to them, like I did last week, they said they couldn't help third party agents and we had to wait for someone from TUI to call us with options, and at that point they offer you a cancellation, but they never call. With the first lot of cancellations no-one called and I eventually got through on the phone, and someone cancelled two bookings for me, but I received a cancellation invoice but no refund. ABTA needs to be on TUI's back.

Images courtesy of Freepik


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  • Some companies are good others are not

    Easyjet got a good report from a relative. Another with TUI has had to send a 14 day letter requesting repayment none received so the credit card company has an online form to request a payment from the bank. I dont think that abusing anyone is acceptable in any circumstances and I do wonder when clients book a holiday in future the agent will say during the Covid-19 crisis the company that you have chosen made it very difficult to get a refund.

    By Paul Johnston, Monday, May 18, 2020

  • 'Proper Trusted People'

    Is there any wonder? Look at Netflights last TV 'ad' highlighting 'Proper Trusted People' yet we have been waiting 63 DAYS so far for a due REFUND. Will there be any confidence among consumers to ever entrust their monies with a travel agent, tour operator or airline again?

    By Adrian Loveridge, Monday, May 18, 2020

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