'Holidays ruined. Family plans cancelled. We need to look more closely at air travel protection'

Monarch

FIRST Ryanair cancelled hundreds of flights, citing a messed-up holiday rota as the cause.

60 jobs lost at Leeds Bradford Airport after Monarch airline collapse

Now Monarch Airlines has gone into administration, writes Jayne Dowle, stranding more than 100,000 people abroad and ruining the travel and holiday plans of countless others.

It’s reported that a further 750,000 booked passengers have been told that their flights have quite simply vanished into thin air.

It’s stressful enough booking a flight these days without the threat of it disappearing before your very eyes. Yet this would appear to be the price we pay for taking cheap international travel for granted.

I’ve been keeping a wary eye on the Ryanair situation, as we’re supposed to be taking a family trip to Morocco with this particular carrier later this year.

I’m paranoid enough about security and regulations at airports as it is, but this takes my stress to another level. What if we get to Liverpool ready to catch the plane, our carry-on bags measured to the millimetre and all liquids disposed of, only to find our flight no longer exists? What if we fly out and have a lovely time in Marrakech, only to find our return flight cancelled?

What if we’re stuck over there, with two children, waiting in a hotel and living on bread and water? My partner and I are both self-employed. We’ve budgeted hard to pay for this holiday and we can’t afford to be out of the country for any longer.

I know. I’ve got to stop imagining the worst and travel hopefully, as the old saying goes, but I’m not exactly reassured by the latest updates. Getting the Monarch passengers home has turned into the biggest UK peacetime repatriation, ever. Although more than a fifth have now been brought safely back on planes hastily scrambled by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), there are still huge questions to answer.

Like, will they get their money back too? And will all the other people, who haven’t even set off yet, be recompensed too? We live in the age of independent travel, Trip Advisor reviews and a determination to not be ripped off. We book flights in good faith, emboldened by the tempting prospect of taking off to foreign shores at a cost which is usually far less than a train trip to London.

Yet anyone who has ever had to navigate the various websites offering cut-price fares and juggle the cost of all the so-called “extras” – such as a guaranteed seat – will admit that getting a good price on a flight is no easy achievement. And you’re not telling me that Monarch’s former competitors won’t be hiking up their prices to popular destinations now desperate travellers are hastily trying to rearrange their plans.

Holidays ruined. Business trips aborted. Long-planned family reunions thrown, literally, up in the air. Money alone cannot repair the damage, or replace the memories but surely if a service is not provided as expected a customer has the right to a refund.

As with everything to do with air travel, it’s not as simple as that. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the vast majority of Monarch customers will not receive an automatic refund, with administrators KPMG estimating that just 10 to 15 per cent of those affected have bookings protected by the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (Atol).

Put simply, that’s one of the safeguards that travel companies rely on when they are packaging up your holiday. If you’ve booked your flight independently, paying by credit card may give you some protection, but you shouldn’t expect an automatic refund. Don’t even ask about any compensation.

Even if you have travel insurance, don’t assume that your company will pay up. Even if you pore over the small print until your eyes cross, there are different interpretations of “cancellation” and usually, myriad conditions attached.

I won’t even begin to go into the knock-on costs which must still be borne by the unlucky traveller caught up in airline failure; hotels and accommodation, car hire, booked excursions and airport transfers. You’re on your own.

It would be fallacious to expect consumer protection and recompense to stretch into infinity and beyond. However, these recent problems should give the industry, the regulators and the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, impetus to ensure that they are clear, fair and always work in favour of the paying customer.

We don’t have much power, up in the air at the mercy of fate and airline operators, but on the ground? It should be a different matter.

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