Atol Flight Plus reform defined and explained

The legal definition of a Flight-Plus holiday sold by travel agents will depend on what a consumer requests and not what a retailer makes available.

The Department for Transport (DfT) consultation document on the new Flight-Plus Atol released today makes clear the change to the current regulations applied to package holidays.

The DfT states: “It is a consumer’s request for a holiday that determines when a Flight-Plus is created, not how a business responds to that request.”

The document proposes definitions of ‘Flight Plus’, of businesses that act as ‘Flight-Plus arrangers’, of the liabilities of these Flight-Plus arrangers, of new ‘Approved Body’ arrangements for members of consortia, and of the new requirement for a written agency agreement between Atol-licensed businesses and agents.

It also gives details of the proposed criminal offences for breach of the Atol regulations. The industry has until September 15 to respond.

Flight-Plus: A Flight-Plus Atol will be required when a purchaser selects. “A flight out of the UK, or an inbound flight where the outbound trip from the UK was not by air, and hotel (or other) accommodation and/or car hire, both outside the UK and supplied under the same contract or in connection with the flight.”

The various elements “must be requested by a consumer either the day before, on the same day, or the day after the flight was requested . . . The time period relates to a calendar day rather than 24 hours.

“Where overnight accommodation is not included . . . the arrangements must cover more than 24 hours.”

Flight-Plus arranger: A business will be considered a Flight-Plus arranger where it “makes available flight accommodation either as a principal or an agent of another Atol-licensed business, in response to a request from a consumer”, except where an ‘Approved Body’ acts as the arranger.

Flight-plus arranger’s liabilities: The Dft states it “will be the responsibility of the Flight Plus arranger to provide . . . [protection for the consumer] against the insolvency of the suppliers of elements of the Flight-Plus (an airline or other flight provider, or car-hire business).

“If a supplier of a flight or accommodation or car hire become insolvent before the consumer departs . . . the Flight-Plus arranger must make alternative arrangements to replace these at no extra cost to the consumer.

If one of these suppliers becomes insolvent after the start of the holiday, the Flight-Plus arranger has to arrange for the consumer to return home and/or provide alternative living accommodation or car hire.”

The DfT states: “We expect Flight-Plus arrangers will want to consider taking out supplier failure insurance.”

It notes these protections are similar to those tour operators selling package holidays are required to provide, but says: “We are not proposing that all the protections in the Package Travel Regulations should apply to Flight-Plus.”

Approved body: a new concept, aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses. The DfT says: “It is anticipated that travel agent consortia will apply to become an Approved Body . . . [which] would hold an Atol licence, but the member business would not and would not need to provide a bond to the CAA.”

Agency agreement: also a new requirement, applying to Atol-licensed businesses. Those selling flights through an agent “must have in place a written agreement with the agent” authorising the sale of flights by that agent.

“The agent must agree not to accept payment for a flight unless authorised by the Atol licence holder to do so and [agree to] provide the consumer with an Atol certificate.

“This requirement will help clarify the relationship between Atol-licensed businesses acting as principals and those acting as their agents.”

Offences for breach: the draft regulations propose two categories of offence for breach of the Flight-Plus regulations.

One covers “more serious breaches” such as “making available flight accommodation when not permitted” or a business “misrepresenting that they hold an Atol licence”, punishable by a fine and/or up to two years in prison.

A second group of offences, such as issuing an Atol certificate that fails to comply with the regulations, would be punishable by a fine of up to £5,000.

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