Saturday, December 16, 2017

As the last flights arrived back in Britain with Monarch passengers on board, a key travel industry figure has said he was “disgusted” with the Government’s decision to spend £60m on the airlift – and then demand money back from travel agents and operators.

Monarch Airlines folded in the early hours of 2 October, with more than 100,000 holidaymakers abroad. The collapse coincided with the first day of the Conservative Party conference – which Derek Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), said was a relevant factor. 

He told The Independent: “When Monarch goes down, and the majority of seats are seat-only and therefore not covered, I can only assume that because the Conservatives were having a conference, and because they’ve got a slim majority and are not very popular, they decided to take some decisive action. And they ordered that people be flown home.”

The 14-day airlift has brought back 109,025 passengers free of charge, keeping as closely as possible to the original departure times. Aircraft and crews have been chartered mainly from abroad, with US, Canadian and Qatari airlines among the 28 carriers used.

On the aircraft, passengers are invited to fill in forms which explain: “For the Government to reclaim the cost of this replacement flight direct from ATOL or credit and debit card companies, we need to know how you booked your flight.” There is no obligation to complete the form.

Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) cover is mandatory for flights and accommodation sold together in the same transaction, or within two successive days. Travel firms must pay £2.50 per person, with the money going into the Air Travel Trust Fund. 

A small percentage of passengers were on Monarch-organised holidays, and the Government will claim for their flights from the fund. 

But Mr Moore said holiday firms that had contracted Monarch to fly customers are now being asked to pay a substantial part of the cost: £250 for each passenger brought home. 

“They are now talking about, ‘You have to pay £250 as an operator for people to be repatriated.’ 

“The travel industry is frankly disgusted.”

There is deep concern among travel agents and tour operators that the decision to bring everyone home at no charge to themselves undermines the Atol scheme and rewards travellers who have decided to make their own arrangements with no consumer protection.

One senior executive from a leading tour operator said he was “livid” about the Government’s demand.

“We have been obediently paying into the Atol fund, which is now so rich that the Monarch collapse is a drop in the ocean, and now we’re being asked for more,” he said.

“This now sets a precedent for the next failure.”

The cost for each passenger flown home was £550. Even when halved because of the “empty leg” outbound, at £275 it is far more than the original fares paid.

Noel Josephides, chairman of ABTA, closed the travel association’s annual convention with an attack on the cost of the airlift – and the lack of consultation.

“The Government sometimes treats us as if we know nothing about the very industry in which we work,” he said.

“Abta is a serious organisation, a regulator in its own right, but was never asked whether it felt the industry could handle such a failure without outside intervention – or whether this could be done at a more reasonable cost.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Government launched the biggest ever peacetime repatriation to bring back 110,000 people.

“Work is ongoing with the travel operators and card companies to help recover costs.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is to face questions about the rescue at the Transport Select Committee on Monday afternoon.