European Union Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva published a report on a European-wide enforcement investigation involving 15 European Union national authorities and Norway against misleading advertising and unfair practices on airline ticket-selling websites.
The report shows that there are “serious and persistent consumer problems” throughout the airline industry as a whole. One in three websites surveyed -137 out of 386 originally checked by the 13 reporting countries- have had to be followed up with enforcement action for over half a year for breaches of European Union consumer law. Some 50 percent of those websites have been corrected during this time.
Ms. Kuneva said: “It is unacceptable that one in three consumers booking a plane ticket online are being ripped off or mislead and confused.” The report highlights serious and persistent problems with ticket sales throughout the airline industry as a whole.
She added, “I intend to work with Member States to do everything possible to wrap up this investigation by May 1st next year and my message to the industry is clear-act now or we will act.”
The Commission’s report on the airline ticket investigation provides a sample of the state of play of the enforcement work based on the available data for 13 countries. The investigation focused on misleading pricing, availability of offers and unfair contract terms, including pre-checked boxes, and clear contract terms available in the language of the consumer.
The key findings showed that many sites had multiple problems. Misleading pricing has emerged as the biggest problem found in 58 percent of the sites under investigation. Irregularities related to contract terms were found in 49 percent of those sites such as missing or wrong language version, and pre-checked boxes for optional services. Problems with non-availability of advertised offers appeared in 15 percent of the sites.
The problems exist across the airline industry as a whole with airlines and tour operators as the distinction between so-called low cost carriers and traditional airlines is increasingly blurred in practice. From the 79 sites being investigated because of problems of misleading pricing, 44 (56 percent) sites are airlines, 27 (34 percent) sites are travel agencies/tour operators, and eight (10percent) sites were other types such as price comparison sites. Of the 21 websites, sites with problems to do with the availability of offers, 12 (57 percent) sites were airlines, six (28 percent) sites were travel agencies and three were “other.” Of the 67 sites being investigated for unfair contract terms, 26 (39 percent) sites were airlines, 34 (51 percent) sites were travel agencies and seven (10 percent) sites were “other.”
The problems persist amongst a wide range of companies. The 137 websites under investigation represent about 80 companies including large brand names and lesser-known companies. Enforcement work by the European Commission within the network will be intensified this year with a view to a further report after 1st May 2009.