In response to the announcement by United Airlines that it had declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) issued the following statement:
“The public’s trust in the airline industry has been seriously shaken over the past year with a spate of bankruptcies despite a substantial government bailout last year,” said ASTA President and CEO Richard M. Copland, CTC. “Airlines are failing at an unprecedented rate. United’s application to the Air Transportation Stabilization Board apparently failed because revenue projections were overstated. Travel agents support airlines’ success; however, they would like to see airlines receive equal treatment as businesses, just as travel agencies are treated. United may wish to rethink its relationship to travel agents and agents’ efforts to promote consumer protection.
“Despite the eroding confidence in the air transportation system, consumers still have a high degree of faith in the services their travel agents provide. That’s because travel agents’ first priority is still their clients,” continued Copland. “Now more than ever, consumers need the expertise, resources and knowledge of their ASTA travel agent. The services agents provide can save consumers hassle and money, as well as get them to their destination with the least amount of stress possible.
“Savvy travelers work with a travel agent and breathe easier knowing they have a travel professional in their corner, sorting through their options to help them reach their destinations. Travel agents can help travelers explore all their options, including alternative flights and departures from different airports or on different airlines,” added Copland. “Without a travel agent, you really are on your own.”
ASTA gave these tips to consumers holding tickets on United Airlines, or any airline that has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy:
1) Use a credit card. When selecting a supplier rumored to be in financial trouble, consumers should pay by credit card. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card customers have the right to refuse paying for charges for services not rendered. Details of the Fair Credit Billing Act can be found at the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fcb.htm.
2) Consider insurance. Some travel insurance policies may include supplier default protection. However, before purchasing insurance consumers should check with their ASTA member travel agent to determine what policy best meets their needs.
3) Remember Section 145. Consumers who already have purchased a ticket on an airline that ceases operations may be entitled to stand-by travel on other airlines. Section 145 of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act provides that airline passengers holding tickets (paper or electronic) from a bankrupt carrier for a particular route are entitled, at minimum, to transportation on a space-available basis on ANY airline currently serving that route within 60 days after an airline has suspended operations. Additionally, the maximum fee that an airline can charge for providing standby transportation should not exceed $25 each way.
4) File a claim. If all else fails and a consumer is unable to take advantage of the Fair Credit Billing Act or Section 145, they should file a claim with the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court usually provides filing instructions, including claim forms, within months after a bankruptcy is filed.
To find the nearest ASTA member travel agency, consumers should visit the Society’s Web site at www.astanet.com.