11 October 2017 : Last week I expounded the virtues of the ATOL system citing the successful repatriation of all the stranded Monarch Airlines passengers. Unfortunately, I've now got to say that at the time, I wasn't in possession of all the facts.
Apparently only 20,000 of the 110,000 repatriated travellers were actually covered by the ATOL system - which is administered by the CAA and funded by the ATOL Protection Contribution (APC). It was actually a government decision to instruct the CAA to bring back the other 90,000 passengers at the taxpayers expense.
A good deed well done, surely nothing to get upset about I hear you say? Well that depends upon your perspective. If you were one of those stranded Monarch clients, sure you are going to be happy. But alternatively, if you were an ATOL holder who has payed their dues and met all the stringent criteria imposed by the CAA, then you might have a slightly different viewpoint.
For many years during the numerous ATOL consultations held by the CAA, the SPAA have advocated the need for the ATOL protection system to be extended to cover 'seat only' sales made by airlines direct to the public. At the moment there is no consumer protection for this kind of sale. As long as 12 years ago, we proposed a £1 levy on all scheduled airfares to provide financial protection for seat only sales. Successive governments have failed to heed the advice or warnings, citing that a change in legislation was required to do so.
Anyway, fast forward to 2017 and here we have an airline gone bust and the government choosing to meet the costs of repatriation of 'seat only' customers at the taxpayers expense. The government just couldn't stand the heat that would be generated if it became apparent that there was no consumer protection in place. However, by 'bailing out' the unprotected passengers, they are effectively devaluing the ATOL system by providing 'free' ATOL coverage to those not actually in the scheme.
As an ATOL holder myself, I've got to admit it does rankle. What is the point of consultation after consultation, when it seems that nobody listens to what is the blatantly obvious. If anything good comes out of this debacle, let's hope it is that those with the power to change things, begin to listen......