06 August 2010

Seismic Shift in UK Airlines

Several events in the UK have come together to change the way that the airline product is bought and sold in the market. Thomson has announced that effective November 1st it is cutting commission on flight only sales to 0.1% from the old standard 10%. It is thus just retaining the ability to pay commissions. At the same time it is ending is ATOL bonding of the flight only product.

"This decision has not been taken lightly but in making the amendment, we recognise the flight only landscape has altered greatly in recent years and Thomson Airways is competing with both traditional charter airlines and also other scheduled carriers," said the airline.

The challenge to the ATOL bonding was a battle the CAA who manages the scheme for the UK Government apparently lost a few weeks ago in the UK High Court. The now landmark case the CAA brought against Travel Republic (the UK Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal on July 29th), has effectively ended the traditional Tour Operator coverage for Flight Only sales. The longer term effect is that the charter seat only business is dead and replaced by a more normalized approach to the sale of flights. The distinction has been moot for a long time anyway. The former seat only carriers such as Thomson, Monarch and Thomas Cook with their respective airline brands are now free to compete directly with the LCCs and conventional airlines.

What is not clear is how the non-carrier seat only operators like KISS will be able to operate. That remains unclear.

The long term impact will be that these airlines will now operate a hybrid model but will look much more like a true LCC operator. In turn this will open up competition in the market which will be good for the consumer.

So the storied history of the seat operator market in the UK is no more.

An interesting side note is that this will be welcomed by the US companies such as Expedia who have been sniffing around the tour operators and remaining VTO players in both the UK and Germany. ATOL bonding and their airline operations have always made them nervous.

Finally this will put pressure on the UK government and the CAA for the whole bonding coverage. In light of other activities it may just be time for Her Majesty's Government to get out of the insurance business and return to regulatory activities.


With thanks to widebodies.nl for the picture.

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