More than 200 European airline websites are misleading consumers by failing to clearly advertise the full prices and conditions of their flight offers, Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said on 14 November.
Presenting the results of an EU-wide investigation into misleading advertising and unfair practices on airline ticket-selling websites – the first ever EU joint enforcement action – the Commissioner said companies that presented irregularities would have four months to clear up the situation.
The Commission declined to mention any names at this point in time, but Kuneva stressed that, if companies failed to correct their website before the deadline expires, they could face legal action, fines or even the closure of their websites. She added that she would "not hesitate to go further and name and shame companies which are still breaking the law".
A total of 447 websites were checked by national authorities in 15 member states, as well as Norway.
The worst offender turned out to be Belgium, where 46 of the 48 checked websites presented "irregularities" relating to price indications, contract terms and clarity of proposed conditions. Austria was the best performer, with none of the 20 websites that were inspected judged to be misleading.
The initiative highlights a particular problem in the airline sector, where price competition is so strong that carriers – and in particular low-cost operators, such as Ryanair – regularly advertise very cheap or even 'free' flights, despite the fact that they are in fact subject to taxes and charges ranging from €15 to €35.
This problem has also been picked up in Commission proposals to modernise 15-year-old rules governing the aviation market, in order to increase air-fare transparency and make it easier for consumers to compare prices offered by different airline companies (EurActiv 19/07/06).
The proposal, which was backed by MEPs in July 2007 (EurActiv 12/07/07), would specifically require that air fares be advertised only in a way that includes all fares, taxes and charges, as well as a detailed breakdown of those prices.