Yet another Australian travel agent has gone bust, leaving travellers stranded in Europe with their flights and accommodation cancelled, while the company concerned abuses clients contemptuously on Facebook. In terms of bad publicity for agents, this one is a disaster.
Western Australia-based Sky Air Services’ Facebook page lists customer complaints, sometimes followed by vivid and foul-mouthed responses from the company.
“You are a f***ing pain in the ass hard maintenance anyways! good riddance and bon voyage!!” the company wrote when an aggrieved client complained.
Another customer who inquired about apparently high prices received the following response: “Inflated price? u mean 20 dollar commission? … we can take your 20 dollars and wipe our butts with it!”
In terms of negative fallout for the image of agents, it hardly comes any worse. This is the fifth agency collapse since 14 May 2015 and is bound to add to the clamour for the revival of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF). See: Top legal newsletter exposes agent deregulation dangers
The removal of the TCF means agents no longer have to be licenced.
Western Australian Consumer Protection authorities say customers have turned up at airports and been unable to board, as flights had been cancelled due to non-payment – or never booked in the first place.
ABC News reported that members of a local water polo team had been unable to return from Europe, and eventually had to pay for new flights back to Perth.
Western Australia’s Department of Commerce issued the following urgent alert yesterday:
Urgent advice for ‘Sky Air Services’ customers
Customers of the Fremantle-based travel agency, Sky Air Services, are being urged to contact Consumer Protection with the agency experiencing financial difficulties.
Ten customers of the agency have contacted Consumer Protection in recent days reporting that flights and accommodation booked by the agency on their behalf have not been paid for despite the customers making payments in full to the agency. Some customers reported turning up at the airport but their flights had either not been booked or had been cancelled due to non-payment. Others due to travel had not been given confirmation of their flight and accommodation bookings.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said others who are affected by the agency’s financial problems may not yet be aware of it.
“I would urge customers who booked through Sky Air Services in Fremantle to contact the airline or accommodation provider to ensure that their booking is secure. I also encourage those affected to contact Consumer Protection so we can get an accurate picture of the number of consumers affected by this situation and keep them informed of developments as they occur,” Ms Driscoll said.
“Consumers who have made a booking using a credit card and not received what they paid for should seek a chargeback from their card provider. Unfortunately those who have paid by direct bank transfer may not be able to access redress in this way, which serves as a reminder not to pay for travel services in this way. People in this situation should still speak with their bank about what options they may have.
“It is also worth checking your travel insurance policy and speaking with your insurance provider to see whether you are covered in this particular situation.”
Affected consumers can contact Consumer Protection by email: email@example.com or call 1300 30 40 54. Travel consumers can find tips on the Consumer Protection website: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/travel.
The WA department estimates the cost to consumers so far at about AUD 30,000, but that could be the tip of the iceberg. More people are thought to have been affected and are likely to come forward.
WA Today in Perth spoke yesterday to one couple, Fazlo Hadzic and his wife. They spent almost AUD 4000 at the agency in April on flights to Europe to see his wife’s sick parents.
If this collapse is anything like previous ones, a large proportion of customers will find they have lost all their money. The TCF, which would have refunded it, has gone.
Written by Peter Needham