NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe has slammed as “unconscionable” the actions of a travel agent who vanished after being prosecuted for ripping off elderly clients and leaving them stranded at Sydney Airport.
Taha Baghdadi failed to appear before Parramatta Local Court last month and has not been seen since, the Sun-Herald reported.
Baghdadi had been ordered to pay almost $30,000 in fines, costs and compensation to three victims.
Baghdadi’s agency in the western Sydney suburb of Bankstown, Pack N Go Travel, suddenly shut in 2014 and Baghdadi vanished. Clients found their tickets had been cancelled because they had never been paid for.
NSW Fair Trading issued a media release on Anzac Day about the case, which was headed: TRAVEL AGENT LEAVES CUSTOMERS HIGH AND DRY
The release reads as follows:
A Bankstown travel agent who left his clients stranded at Sydney Airport has been prosecuted in Parramatta Local Court.
Taha Baghdadi failed to make an appearance in court on 24 March and was ordered in his absence to pay $15,555 fines and costs and $14,200 compensation to three of his victims.
The court heard two of those victims were elderly women who paid Mr Baghdadi $4400 cash at his South Terrace Plaza agency in Bankstown to travel to Greece.
But when the women went to check-in with Emirates Airlines at Sydney Airport in December 2014, they were told their seats booked by Mr Baghdadi had been cancelled as the airline had not received payment.
The women reported the incident to NSW Police the following day.
A third victim paid Mr Baghdadi $9,800 to visit family in Lebanon but when the man returned to the Bankstown business after paying in full, he found the agency had closed.
When Malaysian Airlines was contacted, it confirmed the man’s airline tickets had been cancelled due to non-payment.
Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said none of Mr Baghdadi’s victims received refunds after their travel plans were botched.
“Under the Australian Consumer Law this is a clear case of a travel agent wrongfully accepting payments and engaging in misleading, deceptive or unconscionable conduct,” Mr Stowe said.
“Consumers can protect themselves from dodgy travel agents in a number of ways, including ensuring the agent they are dealing with belongs to a recognised accreditation scheme such as the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS)
“Further protection can be achieved by using a credit card rather than cash for large deposits, to take advantage of the charge back facilities many financial institutions offer if something goes wrong.”
More information on accreditation and selecting a travel agent, go to the Australian Consumer Law website www.consumerlaw.gov.au.
To learn more about your consumer rights as a traveller, watch the Pack some peace of mind video on the NSW Fair Trading website.
(if you want to watch that video, it’s located at the end of this story.)
A copy of the New South Wales Government Gazette, issued in 2012, listed Taha Baghdadi of Pack N Go Travel as holding travel agent licence number 2TA08535. That was in the days when travel agents had to be licensed. The Travel Agents Act 1986 required the Director-General of the NSW Government Department of Finance and Services to publish, from time to time, a list of travel agent licence holders.
Since the disbandment of the national travel agent licensing and consumer protection scheme from 1 July 2014, travel agents no longer need to be licensed and the Travel Compensation Fund does not apply.
The case, and its implications for the reputation of travel agents, has drawn comment from within the travel industry. See: Travel industry ‘still making headlines for wrong reasons’
The story in the Sun-Herald attracted about 30 comments on the Herald’s Facebook page within a day of publication.
One brief Facebook comment, by Trish Commane, indicates that the public has a pretty good idea of what is going on.
Commane wrote: “Travel agents used to be required to be members of the Travel Compensation Fund protecting consumers against exactly this situation. However it was decided to repeal state legislation and disband the TCF. It was only a matter of time.”
Written by Peter Needham