Comment: Passenger Covid-19 Charter can help travel firms on refunds

Publication gives companies a useful resource to refer customers to, says Deloitte senior managing associate Luke Golding

One of the proposals to come out of the report of the Global Travel Taskforce in April of this year, was the recommended introduction of a passenger Covid-19 charter.

Its intention was to clearly set out the rights and responsibilities of consumers when booking travel while Covid-19 measures remain in place.

However, at the time of the proposal, it was unclear whether its purpose was simply to explain the legal position as it is now, or whether it would look to impose additional obligations on the travel industry.

The charter, published in May by the Department for Transport, now provides clarity on this.

Helpfully, from the point of view of the travel industry, it has taken the approach of explaining the law as it stands now, rather than look to impose or recommend any additional obligations.

The charter covers five distinct areas, encompassing various aspects of a holiday booking.

This includes the planning of a booking itself, through to Covid-19 safety in resort, and even issues of data protection.

In each area, it sets out both the consumer’s rights and responsibilities if their holiday is impacted by Covid-19, including the right to a full refund if a booking is cancelled.

For the travel industry itself, there are several aspects that are also helpful. For instance, the charter confirms that:

  • consumers may not be entitled to a refund where: restrictions change in destination; the traffic light rating of the destination changes; or any other COVID-19 restriction changes affect a consumer’s travel plans; and
  • full refunds should be provided within a “reasonable” timescale (rather than referencing the more onerous 14-day timescale imposed on Package sales, under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations).

While there was initially a great deal of uncertainty as to what the practical implications of the charter would be for the travel industry; its publication appears, on balance, to be positive for the industry.

To some extent, that positive derives from what the charter does not say, rather than what it does.

In the sense that the charter has not been used to impose further obligations on the industry, above and beyond the existing legal framework.

This is certainly a welcome development given that many in the travel industry expect disruption well into 2021, with pre-pandemic performance not expected to return until 2023 or beyond.

However, the charter does have some potentially beneficial practical uses too.

In that, while it does not go into significant detail on the issues highlighted above relating to refunds, it does make well-balanced comments as to when a refund may or may not be due.

The charter may, therefore, prove to be a useful independent resource for travel companies to refer customers to, if a customer’s refund expectations do not match their legal entitlements.

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