Several state courts have ruled that travel agents are agents of the consumer and not the travel service providers. According to these states (including Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia), travel agents are fiduciaries owing a high standard of care. This makes their obligations and duties to the consumer independent from their relationship with airlines, cruise lines, hotels or tour operators. In addition, it exposes them to potential liability for harm or injury to their customers caused by travel arrangements made by them.
Some of the legal theories under which travel agents or agencies have been sued (in addition to the travel supplier or tour operator actually providing the service or accommodation) include:
- Failure to Disclose Identity of Supplier: A travel agent must disclose the identity of a supplier or tour operator ultimately responsible for delivering the travel services. If the agent fails to make such a disclosure, the agent may be jointly liable for any harm or injury caused to the traveler by the supplier or tour operator.
- Vouching for the Reliability of Suppliers or Tour Operators: By doing so, the travel agent may be jointly responsible for harm or injury to the traveler under a variety of legal theories, including breach of warranty and negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation.
- Failure to Disclose Health and Safety Hazard Information: While the travel agent generally has no duty to investigate ultimate service providers for compliance with safety and health laws, the agent may be jointly liable in circumstances where the agent knew or should have reasonably known of specific risks and did not communicate them to the traveler. Some jurisdictions have found travel agents liable for failure to investigate crime levels in destination areas or advise of epidemics or needed shots/vaccines, or advise of need for travel insurance.