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Mid-term results from joint EU sweep reveal trends in non-compliance in the airline business

The European consumer authorities are busy investigating and enforcing consumer law in the airline business – and for a very good reason: one third of all the websites checked in the joint airline ticket sweep last September breaches European consumer law. Misleading pricing is the main culprit.

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Today, 8 May 2008, the EU Commission publishes a mid-term report which outlines major trends found in the September sweep.

The report is based on national results from 13 of the 16 Member States plus Norway that participated in the sweep.

Approximately 400 websites were checked. Significant breaches were identified on a third of these sites.

50 per cent of the breaches have been corrected since September 2007. The remaining infringements are still under investigation.

Go to the EU Commission's sweep website

What to watch out for

Misleading indications and unfair terms of contract were the main focus of investigation. Irregularities can be grouped into the following three main categories:

Pricing
Failing to indicate additional charges already at the outset of the booking process is a persistent problem. Extra charges, booking fees and the like are added to the price later on.

But the first price shown should also be the final price. And if it is not possible to indicate the final price from the outset, it should be clearly indicated why.

Terms of contract
Unfair terms constitute another type of breach. Pre-checked boxes for newsletters, insurance offers etc. are examples of this practice

Limited availability of offers
Special fares advertised at a low price which are impossible or difficult to find were also a recurrent problem. Significant limitations to the availability of an offer should be clearly indicated.

Investigation continues

In Denmark 61 foreign websites were checked for irregularities regarding pricing and terms of contract. Potential infringements were found on 15 of these websites all of which have now been passed on to EU colleagues for further investigation.

The Danish Consumer Ombudsman awaits his colleagues’ assessment of the cases.

Sweep facts

- A total of 447 websites were examined by 15 EU consumer authorities plus Norway in September 2007

- Major as well as minor breaches of consumer law were found on 137 websites. These breaches have now either been rectified or are still undergoing investigation

- A sweep is a joint enforcement action taken to identify trends of non-compliance in relation to e.g. marketing issues and to raise awareness concerning the issue.

See the Danish sweep 2007 press release