Millions of UK consumers, who would otherwise have been left stranded abroad or facing financial loss when their tour operator went out of business, have been supported by the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL for short) scheme, which is marking its 50th anniversary this summer.
The ATOL scheme, run by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, offers financial protection for British holidaymakers when they book a package trip that includes a flight. The scheme steps in to protect passengers if their tour operator ceases to trade.
The first ever ATOL licences were issued in the summer of 1973 as the popularity of overseas trips grew, and over the last 50 years ATOL has also grown significantly to financially protect more than 26 million passengers a year. Last year, ATOL protected bookings made up around £27.7 billion in sales.
Since 2000 alone, ATOL has repatriated around 242,000 holidaymakers who were overseas at the time their tour operator went out of business and has settled more than 1.7 million claims for consumers who had bookings for travel at a later date.
The ATOL scheme also assists holidaymakers to stay in their holiday accommodation, if possible, when their tour operator goes out of business while they are abroad.
ATOL was first called on to help consumers in August 1974 when Court Line, the second largest tour operator in the UK with subsidiaries including Clarksons Holidays, Horizon, and Medvillas, collapsed leaving around 35,000 travellers abroad.
More recently it stepped in to support holidaymakers impacted by the collapse of Monarch Airlines Group and Thomas Cook Group.
Thomas Cook’s collapse was the biggest repatriation since the Second World War, which saw more than 140,000 passengers brought back to the UK within 14 days and 94 per cent of passengers flown back on their original departure date.
Millions of others who were yet to travel claimed the value of their holiday back through the ATOL scheme.
Paul Smith, interim-joint chief executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority said:
“It’s been an incredible 50 years for the ATOL scheme and while the travel sector has changed since 1973, ATOL has remained a vital companion financially protecting millions of consumers, providing much needed support when their holiday company ceased to trade.
“When Thomas Cook went out of business, we co-ordinated a massive operation to support customers who were affected. Failures on this scale are a very rare occurrence but have a big impact on individuals when they happen.
“Booking a package trip financially protected by the ATOL scheme continues to offer reassurance to consumers that they are protected should the worst happen, and they will be helped to get home and not left out of pocket.”
The UK Civil Aviation Authority is currently conducting a programme to reform the ATOL scheme to better protect consumers’ money by travel businesses and, as a result, improve the financial resilience of the ATOL scheme overall.
Consumers can easily check if their flight package trip is ATOL protected by using the Check for ATOL tool.
Below are some of the highlights of the ATOL scheme’s most important moments and milestones over the last five decades:
The first failures of tour operators, starting in the 1960s, led to increased calls for financial protection to protect consumers.
In 1967 a Government committee under Sir Ronald Edwards published a report, “British Air Transport in the Seventies” recommending the establishment of an aviation regulator, the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Officially launched in April 1972, the UK Civil Aviation Authority set up a consumer protection scheme to protect holidaymakers, and in the summer of 1973, a total of 274 ATOL licences were issued for the first time. There are now over 1,600 businesses in the travel sector licensed under the ATOL scheme.
When Court Line collapsed in 1974, more than 35,000 affected passengers were flown home, but there were insufficient funds to repay those who had paid for their holidays in advance.
This led to the creation of a fund to reimburse customers, which has since evolved to become part of the ATOL scheme we know today.
1980s and 1990s
ATOL assisted passengers affected by the collapse of Laker Airways in 1982, Capital Airlines in 1990 and the 1991 failure of the International Leisure Group (ILG), which impacted 35,000 people who were abroad and a further 600,000 who had advance bookings.
In 2008, the XL Leisure group went out of business, with the ATOL scheme helping to bring home 85,000 people and manage around 200,000 refund claims.
In 2017 and 2019 respectively, Monarch and Thomas Cook collapsed, with the ATOL team overseeing the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers who were abroad.
This huge operation included co-ordinating 150 different aeroplanes on 746 flights departing from 55 destinations in 18 countries around the world.
The ATOL team also contacted 3,400 hotels to ensure ATOL protected customers could continue their stay at their resort until they were due to fly home.
Note to Editors
If your travel company stops trading when you are abroad, the ATOL scheme will help holidaymakers that have an ATOL protected holiday continue their trip by:
- Assisting them to stay in their holiday accommodation, if possible
- Reimbursing them for any money they spent to replace ATOL protected parts of their trip, e.g car hire or transfers.
- Arranging flights home, depending on the circumstances.
- If people are yet to travel when their operator ceases to trade, passengers are able to apply for a refund claim through the ATOL scheme.
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