May 9, 2008: One in three European consumers buying plane tickets online is being misled, the European Commission has warned post a survey that found that dozens of companies are probably in breach of European Union consumer protection law.
These companies are well-known travel operators, budget airlines and national carriers.
Data from 13 of the 16 countries that took part in the survey last September show that, of 386 websites checked, 137 had problems serious enough to warrant investigation. Only half of these sites have so far rectified the problems. Some operators advertise flights at a token price, but at a late stage of the booking add fees like airport taxes and booking and credit card fees.
The report revealed "serious and persistent" problems, such as breaking down the ticket price to suggest a cheap fare. The probe did not include the UK, where action was taken against 13 airlines by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The Commission is currently investigating the practices of ticket-selling websites across the 27 member countries and Norway. Some of the websites being examined are run by leading airlines.
"It is unacceptable that one in three consumers going to book a plane ticket online is being ripped off or misled and confused," said EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva. "This report shows there are serious and persistent problems with ticket sales throughout the airline industry as a whole."
She added that the industry needed to clean up its act on sales and marketing practices by 1 May 2008 or the Commission would intervene.
The airline industry in the EU caters for more than 700 million passengers a year.
As per the information available, Norway, one of the few countries to make the results of its national survey public, found that Austrian Airlines added a booking fee of 100 kroner, or $19.80, per ticket, which was not included in the advertised price. The airline has since changed that policy. Its been shared that Ryanair included a "priority boarding" fee of 50 kroner as a pre-selected option and Blue1 of Finland added a charge for cancellation insurance to every booking automatically. A spokesman for Ryanair reportedly denied the claims made against the airline.