Could an early holiday restart cause more customer complaints?

Airlines could consolidate flights and not everyone will be raring to go, says Steve Endacott

Greece’s announcement that it is suspending its travel ban and allowing hotels to open from June 1 is obviously welcome news for the UK travel industry.

I personally expect its example to be followed by other destinations, such as Spain’s Balearics and Canaries, which will struggle to access surges in self-drive domestic markets, as they require inbound flights to deliver the volume of tourism required to support their hotel infrastructure.

We all know that social distancing simply does not work for beach holidays, as it is virtually impossible to deliver this at airports, on flights or at large buffet-style hotels.

However, the government’s need to get the UK back to work should provide the solutions we need in travel shortly as testing and tracking replaces lockdown and self-isolating as the key methods of stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Unfortunately, travellers will probably have to get used to the wearing of face masks and gloves while flying, as well as airport testing, before international ‘immunity passports’ are agreed.

In the meantime, not all destinations will open up for UK visitors and we still wait with bated breath to see if the UK government will introduce 14-day quarantine measures for returning Brits on Sunday, when the program for relaxing lockdown and back to work measures are expected to be announced.

Another key consideration is whether UK customers are ready to return to holiday travel yet.

I know I am, and if allowed I would travel on all the trips I have booked as I have paid for them and getting a refund, as we know, is problematic, to say the least. I hope customers will be equally gung-ho, but fear many will not.

EasyJet has already announced that a return to flying by lowcost carriers will be gradual and this may require flight consolidation.

Airlines currently define it as a ‘minor’ change, requiring no compensation, if a flight is changed within six hours of the original departure time. It is therefore likely that airlines will try to consolidate all passengers booked to depart on a day to a single destination, eg Majorca, onto one flight. Airlines will no longer have to refund customers once they can get one flight per day to a destination from a departure airport.

If they adopt a more brutal approach, they may try to consolidate customers from a departure region, says the North West, into one airport and cancel the other airport’s flights (for example, switch customers from Manchester to Liverpool or vice versa. This is less likely as it would represent a “significant” flight change and force the offering of a refund if the customer does not want to accept it.

The one thing that is guaranteed is that not all customers will be happy to travel because of the threat of Covid-19. Some may wish to cancel but find themselves unable to get their money back if they do so.

Logically, they can only blame the airline. But logic does not always come into it. Unfortunately, travel agents could be soon caught in the middle again, as they will be unable to cancel a holiday because the airline is offering a flight to a destination and the customer cannot claim on their travel insurance because the holiday is operating.

So, as well as some happy customers glad to be able to get away, the industry could soon be facing a second wave of Covid-19 unrest amongst its loyal customers.

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