A Civil Aviation Authority offer of cut-price Atol payments to bring agent-for-the-consumer sales into the Flight-Plus regime has provoked a furious response from the Association of Atol Companies (AAC).
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the AAC, said: “Either everyone has to comply with the rules and pay the same as everyone else, or not. The CAA’s argument is that this is better than nothing: no it’s not.”
The CAA has confirmed it is offering major online travel agents (OTAs) and a group of other agencies a 50%-off deal to comply with the Flight-Plus Atol regulations.
The deal would see these companies pay the £2.50 Atol Protection Contribution (APC) on protected bookings with scheduled airlines, including Ryanair, up to September 2013, but get a £1.25 credit on an equal number of bookings after that date.
The retailers are acting, or plan to act, as agents for the consumer in making Flight-Plus sales in order to escape the licensing rules which came into force at the end of April.
Bowen said: “If companies want to go agent for the consumer, let them. If an agent is agent for the customer, the customer is the principle and should determine the price of the sale.
“These companies are not really agent for the consumer. It’s just a way of avoiding their liabilities.”
The deal is on offer to Abta members despite Abta’s lead role in bringing members into Flight-Plus. The association is currently processing hundreds of applications from businesses that will pay the full APC.
Bowen said: “It’s unacceptable. It puts all those agents who have complied at a huge commercial disadvantage.”
He added: “My view is it is probably illegal. It is quite clearly actionable in law. It has to be open to challenge.”
It is understood that the Department for Transport has approved the CAA’s discount offer.
Bowen said: “The CAA seems to be down on bended knee [to these companies]. It should not be offering sale prices. It’s putting everyone else at a disadvantage and the government shouldn’t be doing that. People may turn around and say why bother? Why take on liability?”
The CAA declined to give full details of the deal, but believes the Civil Aviation Bill now before Parliament will close the agent-for-consumer loophole. It sees the deal as a transitional arrangement.
The alternative would be to take legal action against one or more of the retailers to enforce compliance.
CAA head of Atol licensing Andy Cohen said: “No arrangements have been finalised and we won’t comment further at this stage.”