Millions of holidaymakers are being left in the dark over the consequences of a Government aviation deal not being in place once the UK leaves the EU, Which? has found.
As people begin to book holidays after the date that the UK leaves the EU, the consumer champion asked the UK’s five biggest travel companies (Thomas Cook, TUI, Jet 2, Expedia, and On the Beach), which carried over 13 million passengers combined last year, what they were doing to inform passengers about the possible effects on customers in the event of ‘no deal’ being in place in the aviation sector from March 29 2019.
Which? believes that companies should be doing more to signpost this possibility during the booking process, as well as the impact on their rights to holiday refunds and compensation if the Government is unable to secure a deal with the EU on aviation post-Brexit.
Which? is calling for the Government to work with travel companies, airlines and insurers to ensure that risks are properly communicated to people in advance of booking a holiday.
It believes consumers booking holidays from March 29 2019 should be given clear and upfront information about the potential risks and prevent them from being left in limbo.
In light of the responses, Which? is advising anyone who may be booking a holiday after the date when the UK leaves the EU to check the cancellation and refund policies for any aspect of their trip, particularly if they have booked any part, such as car hire or a villa rental, outside of a package deal.
Both Ryanair and Lufthansa have recently warned that UK holidaymakers could face flight disruption as a result of Brexit.
The news comes as Which? today launches its Consumer Charter for Brexit, calling on the Government to deliver a Brexit that puts consumers first. This includes securing an aviation deal to keep Britain’s planes flying after the UK leaves the EU, so people can have peace of mind when booking their holiday – and clarity from the Government about their rights if there are any changes that affect flights or holidays that have been booked.
The Charter sets out more detailed priorities that need immediate action from Government to make Brexit a success. These concentrate on the areas of: consumer landscape, food, energy and travel – as well as making sure there is a strong system of consumer rights in place during a transition period. The Charter highlights areas where there may be risks for consumers, but also demonstrates the opportunities available to improve how our systems currently work as we leave the EU.
It sets out the framework for how Brexit should deliver for consumers, including four tests that matter most to consumers: standards, choice, rights and price. It also outlines how the UK can grasp the opportunity to forge an even better environment for consumers.
Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:
“This uncertainty for holidaymakers is just one of the many issues affecting people’s everyday lives that need to be resolved as we move closer to the date that the UK leaves the EU. We want to work with Government and businesses on issues such as this in order to deliver a Brexit that puts consumers first.
“We want to ensure that people are supported by high levels of rights and protection – and with greater access than ever before to quality, affordable products and services. We must not miss the opportunity for the UK to improve consumer protections to become a world-leader. With control over all aspects of consumer protection the UK can and must do something special.”
- Which? approached Thomas Cook, TUI, Jet2, Expedia and On the Beach with a series of questions to establish what these companies are doing to communicate to customers what could happen to their holiday without an agreement in place to ensure that planes can still fly post-Brexit. With the exception of Expedia, all are currently selling holidays after March 29 2019, the date that Britain will leave the EU.
- The questions Which asked were:
- If the Government were to fail to reach an agreement with the EU on continued access to the ECAA in line with current arrangements, or with other countries which are currently part of EU OpenSkies agreements, what would be the status of any tickets that consumers had purchased and would you reimburse customers in the event that you could no longer fly?
- What would be the situation with regard to consequential losses to customers for any additional bookings made outside of the package holiday they have booked with you (e.g car hire booked with a different provider), should you be unable to get your customer to their destination?
- Have you updated your terms and conditions for customers booking holidays with you to address the potential scenarios that could arise? If so, how?
- If no, do you plan to do so, and when? If you don’t plan to do so, do you believe you are covered for these circumstances by your existing terms and conditions?
- How are you communicating the potential disruption that may occur in the event of a ‘no deal’ and how are you informing customers about the application of their consumer rights in this context? How will you ensure it is prominently and explicitly displayed on your website before customers make a booking? Are customer service representatives explaining this to customers on the phone?
- TUI, Jet2 and On The Beach failed to provide any reassurance that any information would be communicated upfront.
- Which? found that Thomas Cook, who has changed its terms and conditions to explicitly state they will not provide compensation, will also not reimburse expenses or cover losses if they have to change the circumstances of your booking, which could occur in the event of ‘airspace closures’.
It’s ‘Brexit clause’, which means that they will not compensate passengers in the event of a significant delay or cancellation because of an airspace closure, places the potential scenario alongside natural disasters and airport strikes as something out of their control.
Thomas Cook told us that they always encourage customers to take out travel insurance to cover consequential losses.
- Expedia was the only company trying to offer some reassurance to travellers, telling Which? that they believed airlines would still be subject to Regulation 261/2004 and the Package Travel Directive. (Though compensation may not be due under these if Brexit is ‘extraordinary circumstances’) should still compensate passengers in the event of no aviation deal being agreed However, the firm is not yet marketing holidays for the period after the UK leaves the EU. They would also not be directly responsible for providing compensation for delays and cancellations, as the customer would have to go through the airline that Expedia have booked their flights with, who may also decide to insert a ‘Brexit clause’.
- 10 largest ATOLs for sales to the public: http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx?catid=1&pagetype=65&appid=4&mode=results&top=10&type=publicsales
- UK residents take more than 70 million trips abroad each year, with around 75% of these (over 53 million) to the other 27 EU member states and 34 million to holiday destinations Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.
- Flyer beware: Ryanair to sell tickets with Brexit caveat: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/mar/09/flyer-beware-ryanair-to-sell-tickets-with-brexit-caveat
- Brexit: Airline passengers won’t be gaurenteed compensation for cancelled flights after UK leaves EU: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/brexit-airlines-passenger-compensation-cancelled-flights-grounded-refund-not-guaranteed-eu-law-uk-a8006471.html
- Fewer flights could run between UK and US after Brexit as Washington offer downgraded ‘open skies’ deal with UK airlines: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5733920/washington-downgrades-open-skies-deal-with-uk-airlines-as-britain-prepares-to-leave-europe/
- Which? Consumer Charter (link to go live on 00:01 Wednesday 14 March) which.co.uk/charter