In a recent Travel Weekly UK report, the consumer group “Which?” claimed that leading airlines have been giving out the wrong information on Covid-19 testing requirements, which could lead to passengers being turned away from flights.
Phoning in, posing as passengers, “Which?” asked three different agents on each of five airlines’ customer service lines questions about testing requirements when flying to mainland Portugal. Of the 15 calls, only two airline reps answered all the questions with the correct information.
Clients place trust, confidence and responsibility with their travel consultant. Agents are there to protect the client’s interests, even more so, now that the simplest of itineraries requires copious amounts of research to determine Covid-19 rules and entry regulations, and accurate answers to the questions arising. Do agents, and others in the travel value chain, live up to that trust?
Carol-Anne Williams, Office Manager at Sure Maritime Travel says that travel consultants are fiduciaries. “A high degree of responsibility, trust and obligation is required to act in the best interests of your traveller. At the moment, conveying information about safety and health hazards and informing clients of travel constraints is challenging because the rules are volatile and must be re-checked and communicated several times before the client actually travels.” Williams added: “Consultants have a responsibility to inform clients about crucial travel information as part of the booking process. We must notify clients about constraints on air ticket validities, access to travel insurance, the reams of travel documentation required to travel and whether a country has specific requirements and Covid-19 protocols on the ground. Having said that, we do insist that each client acknowledge having received our updated Covid-19 travel information and sign a waiver form excluding our agency from liability in the event that protocols are not followed and that results in a disruption of their journey.”
Travel News asked Jeffrey Harrison, SA Marketing Manager for the Lufthansa Group if clients confuse the travel agent's responsibility with the supplier's responsibility. Do suppliers rely on agents to convey important Covid-19 travel information, forms and testing requirements to clients?
“With reference to entry regulations, it is the individual passenger’s responsibility to check requirements and regulations for the country which they intend to visit or enter - this is not within the scope of the airline. From a pure customer service approach, our service centre agents can deliver available information upon request but with the very dynamic changes, the information might not be fully up to date at the time of the request.” Harrison says that the airline is not responsible for the passenger adhering to country entry requirements. “Lufthansa does inform its passengers about the fast-changing regulations on our website but ultimately, passengers need to find the correct information themselves.”
Advocate Louis Nel told Travel News that this situation pertains particularly to the duty of care issue, negligence and potential liability. “I deal with this in an extensive article called ‘Indemnities and the seven tiers of protection’ where I illustrate that the indemnity per se is only one of seven aspects pertaining to the ‘protection’ of the travel agent.” https://www.1tick.co.za/2020/04/08/blog-posts/
Nel said that research and education on the travel protocols that influence the customer’s travel plans are both crucial, but the outcome and knowledge shared must be qualified and accurate. Travel insurance should be comprehensive and regardless of the manner in which it is arranged, it should be compulsory.
Added Nel: “Travel agents should have suitable liability protection in their Terms and Conditions, and ideally separate indemnities or waivers with both the client and the service provider to protect themselves and their businesses in these unprecedented times.”