European Law Monitor

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European Law Monitor newsEU calls time on misleading airline ticket websites

Tempted by the 'unbeatable prices and 'unmissable deals' that airlines offer if you book online? You may be. At least, that is, until you read the small print.

Free or cut-price tickets that turn out not to be available; airport taxes and other hidden costs; insurance that's automatically added unless you opt out • these are just some of the unlawful practices the EU has found on over 50% of the websites checked.

The 'airline sweep', carried out by 15 EU countries on 24-28 September, was more than just a fact-finding exercise • the goal is to enforce consumer rights. "Whether in Brussels or Barcelona, Munich or Manchester, consumers deserve clear and fair pricing and no hidden surprises in the small print of contract terms" said EU consumer protection commissioner Meglena Kuneva.

National enforcement authorities examined 447 websites of Europe's leading airlines, low cost carriers as well as other websites selling airline tickets, of which 226 were flagged as breaching consumer protection law. The companies involved have now been given four months to correct irregularities. The idea is to keep the names of the companies secret for this period, to encourage them to act. But Ms Kuneva has made it clear she will not hesitate to name and shame those who fail to take the necessary steps by the January deadline. Those who don't toe the line may be fined, or have their websites shut down.

Spain's consumer rights watchdog has already announced that it found misleading information on 7 out of 12 airline ticket sales websites, including some very well known low-cost airlines.

EU-wide intervention in this matter is considered vital as the customers buying online tickets are often located in a different country to the seller. In fact, the investigation revealed 63 cross-border cases • that's almost a third of all infringements.