The European Parliament approved the draft legislation on 9 July after having reached a deal with the Council, paving the way for it to enter into force by the end of the year.
The text is aimed at airlines that try to lure in customers with sexy prices – sometimes as low as 1€ – while neglecting to mention that the client will in fact have to pay extra taxes, document fees or surcharges related to security or fuel – multiplying their bill.
The new legislation specifies that all carriers will have to include such extra charges in the final fee they advertise, "including on the Internet", after a Commission review of the sector revealed that 137 out of 386 tested websites were "misleading" (EurActiv 09/05/08). Surcharges relating to security will also have to be shown separately on the ticket or indicated to the passenger. And air carriers will have to ensure that they are used "exclusively to meet airport or onboard aircraft security costs".
However, the text applies only to "unavoidable costs". Any "optional" price supplements - such as taking baggage on board, which is considered an "avoidable" cost by many low cost airlines - may still be left out of the advertised price. The text nevertheless requires that they be communicated in a "clear, transparent and unambiguous way at the start of any booking process and their acceptance by the consumer must be on an 'opt-in basis'".
"This transparency has to be a good thing, and I hope it will end what has been over recent years an exercise in deceit by some airlines which try to con the travelling public into believing they are buying a very cheap ticket when the opposite is true," said British Socialist MEP Brian Simpson, adding that "low fare airlines have perfected this art over recent years".
But low fares airline association ELFAA, which includes Ryanair, insists that its members "have the most transparent pricing policies". In turn, it blamed large flag carrier airlines for "abusive" and "restrictive" practices, such as return pricing or minimum and Saturday-night-stay rules, for forcing up air fares for passengers. "If the Parliament were really looking out for consumers, they would outlaw the unjustified fuel surcharges," added Ryanair Spokesperson Stephen McNamara.
The rules are part of a package updating existing EU legislation on the operation of air transport services in the Community. Among others, the review also aims to establish a more level playing field for leasing aircraft, clarify administrative responsibility for revoking licences, ensure the proper application of employment laws to crews and enforce stricter controls on the financial situation of airlines to ensure that passengers' rights are safeguarded even on carriers facing bankruptcy.
But ELFAA says some of these changes, including stricter requirements for the leasing of aircraft and references to social provisions, will "undermine the principles of the single market for air transport services" and impose "unnecessary complications" on operators.