It seems that consumers and business travelers may begin to gain more confidence with their online purchase of airline tickets in the future as a result of an 18 month consumer investigation of airline ticket selling websites by the European Union Consumer Affairs.

The EU consumer protection study began in September 2007, and it investigated 137 websites that represented about 80 companies; corrective action has been identified for about 115 sites.

To be sure, this does not mean that airlines are fully transparent, and consumers and business travelers should make online choices carefully.

Of course, the nature of the study itself seems to also confirm the perceptions of those who have historically been cautious of tactics used by some airline booking engines.

The good news is that the EU study flags 14 important questions that every consumer should keep in mind when booking airline tickets online. And these questions are relevant to consider for consumer protection whether the booking is with a European airline or any other airline.

The European Union Consumer Affairs has identified the following 14 airline sector check list items to ensure consumer protection for for airline ticket selling

  1. Do prices include all applicable, unavoidable and foreseeable taxes, charges, surcharges and fees? In particular:
    • Are all applicable, unavoidable and foreseeable booking fees included in the price?
    • Are all applicable, unavoidable and foreseeable payment fees per persona and segment or other administrative fees included in the price?
    • If there are different foreseeable and unavoidable fees that are applicable for different payment methods, are they indicated?
    • Are all applicable, unavoidable and foreseeable check-in fees included in all prices?
  2. Are all the optional price supplements of the flight offered on an “opt in basis” without the need for the consumer to remove a tick from any box to opt-out?
  3. Where tickets are described and sold as free by air carriers, does this mean that consumers do not have to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer or paying for the delivery or collection of the ticket? (This also applies to frequent flyer programs.) Where tickets are described as free by air carriers but purchased through a distinct intermediary, does this mean that consumers do not have to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer, the paying for the delivery or collection of the ticket, or the charges for the distinct intermediary’s services?
  4. Are the limitations or conditions attached to the offer clearly displayed?
  5. Are the identity of the company and its contact details clearly indicated?
  6. Is the same language used throughout the selling process, including advertising and the standard contract terms and conditions?
  7. Is access to air fares granted without any discrimination based on nationality, place of residence, or establishment of the air carrier’s agent or ticket seller within the community?
  8. Is it stated whether the relevant flight is a non-stop service or whether the flight is operated with a stop at an intermediate point?
  9. Where certain charges cannot be calculated in advance (e.g. luggage fees), are consumers clearly informed that such charges may be payable and of the manner in which they will be calculated?
  10. Are the airports of departure and destination clearly indicated by including the full and official name of the airport and not by making reference only to the capital or the best known city nearby?
  11. Are all the standard contract terms and conditions, including the limitations to special offers and the conditions for cancellation and modification of the tickets written in a clear manner using readable characters?
  12. Are the standard contract terms available to the consumer before the ticket is bought?
  13. Can the consumer retain (print-out or save otherwise) a copy of the company’s standard terms and conditions at the time of purchase?
  14. Does the website include the unmodified Annex of the Regulation 889/2002 on air carrier liability governing liability for passengers and their baggage?

The European Union Consumer Affairs released the following results in May 2009:

European Union Airlines meeting all the standards of the health check and giving a commitment to maintain their web pages at this level:

Air Malta
Estonian Air
Malmö Aviation
Sata Air Açores
Sata International
Virgin Atlantic

Airlines providing commitments that issues raised by the health check have already been addressed or will be addressed shortly to ensure that all standards are fully met:

Adria Airways
Aegean Airlines
Aer Arann
Aer Lingus
Air Berlin
Air Europa
Air One
Austrian Airlines
Binter Canarias
Blue Air
Brussels Airlines
Bulgaria Air
Cimber Sterling
Cyprus Airways
Cyprus Turkish Airlines
Czech Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Finncomm Airlines
Malév Hungarian Airlines
Meridiana Air
Norwegian Air Shuttle
Pegasus Airlines
VLM Airlines
Wizz Airr

Originally Published May 18, 2009