Canceling a long-awaited school trip to a European capital is painful enough. The headache of many families trying to get their money back makes it worse.
The pain has been felt by enough students, in enough districts, that Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing a bill to force travel companies to issue full refunds. While the idea may sprout from good intentions, grounded in sympathy for those who cannot afford to lose any portion of a trip’s cost, the effort is misguided.
This shouldn’t be the work of the Legislature, as became somewhat apparent in a virtual hearing earlier this week. Rather it’s the attorney general’s job to ensure consumers are protected.
The AG’s office is doing just that, announcing last week a $1.4 million agreement with tour coordinator EF Educational Tours, based in Cambridge, on behalf of families who weren’t fully refunded the cost of their kids’ cancelled trips. The company was holding back $1,000 in cancellation fees for some European trips that cost $3,600, NBC10 reported last week. Under a deal brokered by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, families whose students were supposed to travel overseas could get back another $435. Families with kids booked on U.S. trips would see $100 or $300, depending on the arrangements.
It may not be a perfect ending, but the Legislature shouldn’t spend it’s time trying to make it so.
For one thing, where does the errand end? Shutdowns brought on by a pandemic scrambled a host of plans, from weddings to summer camps. Signed contracts should make consumers whole. The AG’s office gets involved when that’s not enough. (The office reports nearly 4,000 coronavirus-related consumer calls so far.)
Another issue is the unfairness of heaping the burden of cancelled school trips on tour operators — an objection raised by companies during a hearing Wednesday. Trip funds are typically spent well in advance on local bus operators, hotels and attractions — not all of which is refunded. Under the pending bill, trip coordinators would be forced to make up the difference to families.
Our sympathies certainly lie with those who fronted thousands of dollars for unforgettable journeys, only to see trips cancelled and 70% of their money returned. They should get all of it back. But it shouldn’t be up to lawmakers to get it for them.
For consumer protection issues in Massachusetts, contact the attorney general’s office at (617) 727-8400.