The easy manipulation of the logo is undermining the legitimacy of the government’s trip protection, which has already become less popular due to recent failures and online bookings.
Up to 20 travel companies are being investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for falsely displaying the Atol logo.
The government-backed Atol scheme protects holidaymakers from losing their money, or being stranded abroad, in the event of their travel company going bust.
Last week the CAA, which runs the scheme, successfully prosecuted Diving World, a London-based tour operator, for falsely claiming on its website it was an ATOL-registered company. The firm was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs, and the CAA said it expected more prosecutions to follow.
“We’ve been investigating and we’ve found about 20 firms we think are in breach,” a spokesman told the Sunday Times. “It’s something we intend to pursue vigorously – the public must be able to trust the Atol logo.”
All firms selling holiday packages involving flights must have an Atol, and are required to pay into the CAA’s financial guarantee scheme. In the event of a travel company failing, the CAA uses the funds to repatriate holidaymakers, or provide refunds for those yet to travel.
However, the rise in sales of holidays over the internet means that far fewer holidays are now Atol-protected, and following the high-profile failures of recent years – such as those of XL Leisure and Flyglobespan – many passengers who thought they had booked aprotected package ended up losing their money.
Under new regulations, introduced in September, all Britons who book an Atol-protected holiday must now receive a yellow certificate explaining to what extent their trip is protected, and by whom. The certificates also contain a unique reference number which is intended to speed up the claims process.
The certificate must be issued to customers at the point of purchase – they will be handed the document when booking on the high street, or it will be sent to them by email or post if they book over the phone or online.
The introduction of the certificate follows changes to Atol regulations made earlier this year. The new rules, known by the travel industry as Flight Plus, mean that anyone who books a flight, as well as another travel service such as car hire and/or accommodation, through the same website, agent or tour operator, on the same day or “within a day either side of each other”, is covered.
Crucially, however, bookings for flights, plus another travel service, sold directly through an airline, are still not covered by Atol (although some airlines – such as Easyjet – offer financial protection through other means if you book your flight and accommodation in one transaction). These holidays too may fall under the Atol scheme if the Civil Aviation Bill – currently being considered by the House of Lords – is passed next year. Flight-only bookings also remain unprotected, unless you take out insurance that specifically covers airline failure, or book a flight that costs more than £100 using a credit card.