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Misleading ticket sales – EU tells airlines 'act now or we will' - 08/05/2008

Passengers waiting to depart

Buying a plane ticket online is still fraught with risk - a third of consumers are "ripped off or misled and confused", says EU report.

Half of the websites identified as misleading consumers or using unfair practices have been forced to clean up their act, the EU has announced.

Of the 386 sites surveyed (in 13 EU countries and Norway), 137 were penalised –­ but only half of these have made any improvements. A report just out shows that consumers buying air tickets on line still face 'serious and persistent problems'. 

The airline ticket findings came to light as part of an EU airline sweep, a systematic check carried out in different EU countries simultaneously to investigate breaches in consumer law.

The sweep uncovered problems with ticket sales throughout the airline industry, explained consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva, "I hope operators have now realised the determination of the commission to act on behalf of consumers where necessary" adding that if the airlines in question don't improve their sales and marketing practices by May 1, 2009, the commission "will have no choice but to intervene".

The investigation focussed on unfair contract terms, including, for example, sites which pre-select the more expensive options for you. The key findings are:

  • one third of sites required action to punish breaches of consumer law
  • many sites had multiple problems - misleading pricing, irregular contract terms and advertised offers which were unavailable
  • problems occur across the board, from airlines through to tour operators
  • enforcement/correction rates differ for national and cross-border infringements. While 55% of national sites were corrected, only 9% of cross-border cases improved (where the complaint relates to a company operating from another country)
  • a lack of transparency, since most EU countries are unable to publish lists of offenders while cases are still in court. Some national surveys of airline booking sites have been published, however.

The EU wants to see the first price advertised being the final price paid, any limitations on special offers being clearly flagged, and fair contracts available in the consumer's native language. 

Enforcement work will be stepped up, and the EU will monitor developments between now and May 2009 before deciding where it needs to intervene.

EU air transport site

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