One in three airline sites breach consumer law

9 May 2008

One in three airline websites in the EU contain a serious breach of EU consumer law, EU Consumer Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, has said.

Presenting her mid-term report on the investigation into ticket pricing on airline websites in the EU, Kuneva said she was appalled to find there are serious and persistent problems for consumers throughout the airline sector, with half of all websites checked having problems.

The investigation so far has found that one in three websites examined contained a serious breach of EU consumer law, which has had to be followed up with enforcement action by national authorities over the past seven months.

Misleading pricing was the biggest problem found on airline websites, found in 58pc of the sites under investigation. Unfair contract terms were found in 49pc of those sites (focusing on issues such as wrong language, content of the small print and opt-in, opt-out boxes) and there were problems with non-availability of advertised offers in 15pc of cases.

Kuneva revealed these problems exist in all sectors of the airline industry and that a wide range of companies are affected.

On a more positive note, she said enforcement is working, with 50pc of the at-fault websites having been corrected since the pan-European investigation began last September.

“This is very positive. Many companies have responded quickly to contacts from national authorities,” she declared.

Legal constraints prevent the majority of member states from publishing company names at this stage, although Norway and Sweden have made public lists of company websites under investigation.

Kuneva urged more cross-border co-operation around enforcement, as levels of cross-border enforcement were only at 12pc.

“The airline and air travel industry must put its house in order. There is no desire within this Commission for additional regulation. The new airline regulation on pricing will come into force in the autumn, and that will make commercial obligations even clearer, but industry must comply,” she concluded.

The full investigation into airline websites is due to reach completion in May 2009, at which point more wide-reaching disclosures can be made.

By Niall Byrne