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Are Your Itineraries ‘PLAIN and Easy to Understand’?

A recent decision of the ATAS Complaint Appeal Committee (ACAC) found in favour of the complainant, on the basis that the itinerary was not clear and easy to understand, in breach of cl 3.2(a)(iii) of the ATAS Code of Conduct.

Are your itineraries 'clear and easy to understand'?


The Facts

The Complainant’s itinerary on a return flight from New York to Los Angeles showed as ‘Virgin Australia’. The Complainant had tried a few days before to check in online on the Virgin site, unsuccessfully. When they arrived at the airport, they could not find where to check in, as the flight was operated by Delta Airlines.

After being advised by a staff member of another airline that they were in the wrong terminal, the Complainant travelled to the incorrect terminal. By the time they had come back to the original terminal, and identified that Delta was the operator, it was too late to check in their bags and, thus, they missed their flight. They were seeking out of pocket expenses of new flights, and one night of accommodation.

ATAS Compliance Manager

In the first instance, the decision of the ATAS Compliance Manager was that in summary, the Complainant had been put on notice when they tried to check in unsuccessfully online a few days prior. The Complainant had also failed to confirm the flights within 72 hours, and failed to contact the Agent’s emergency contact line at any time during this uncertainty. As such, the ATAS Compliance Manager found that the Complainant had failed to give the Agent the opportunity to correct the error, and that no breach had occurred.

ATAS Complaint Appeal Committee (ACAC)

The majority of the Committee decided; it is reasonable for a consumer to expect a reference in an itinerary to an airline operator that accurately reflects the fact that the nominated operator will be the relevant airline.

The Committee carefully considered whether the Complainant may have some contributory responsibility by not contacting the Agent (or Virgin Australia) while at, or before arriving at, the JFK airport, but has concluded that it would be unreasonable to attribute any such responsibility. Responsibility rests with the Agent for the provision of inaccurate information in the itinerary, which it issued to the Complainant, which has given rise to the unfortunate chain of events evidenced in this complaint.

The Committee is satisfied that the provisions in Clause 3.2(a)(vii) of the Code, which states that Agents will act with due care and skill, and Clause 3.2(a)(iii), which provides assurance about ‘service quality in the provision of information in a plain and easy-to- understand form’, have not been met.

For those reasons, the Committee determined the Agent should refund the Complainant for the additional flight cost, and one night in a hotel for a total of $3,407.

What does this mean for your business?

As pointed out by the Committee, the facts in any given circumstance are determinative of the outcome of any individual case, meaning that each complaint will rest on the specific facts.

What can be taken from this case is that an itinerary should, where there is a Code share, clearly state which airline operates the flight. In general, it also indicates that any major omission may constitute a breach of the ATAS Code for failing the following:

- Cl 3.2(a)(iii) in providing our services we will disclose all relevant information in a plain and easy-to-understand form; or

- Cl 3.2(a)(vii) in providing our services we will act with due care and skill.

What can you do?

Review your itineraries, review your terms and conditions, and apply an objective test. This might mean asking people who are not travel agents, and don’t know how the industry operates, as your documents need to be clear to a consumer in order to ensure compliance with the ATAS Code.

Want to know more?

Contact Naomi Menon – Head of Compliance and Operations, AFTA at naomi@afta.com.au.