We’ve all been there: you see an airline advertising flights to Barcelona for no more than the cost of a first-class stamp, only to discover on closer inspection that when you factor in taxes, wheelchair charges, fuel surcharges and various other hidden costs, your 30p ticket actually costs about £300. Now the European Parliament plans to clamp down on this scourge of the casual tourist by agreeing to ban any ads that don’t include all the relevant extras in the cost of fares.
Not surprisingly, the Association of European Airlines trade body has welcomed the ruling, with a spokesman telling the BBC that: ‘airlines now in general are happy that clarity has been restored and that the consumer is being given the correct information.’ Well it was hardly going to moan about not being able to mislead its own customers, was it? And equally its membership, which is largely drawn from the traditional operators, is probably quite glad that these upstart low-cost airlines appear to be getting their comeuppance for playing a bit fast and loose with their fare figures.
Some countries already have rules in place that prevent adverts like this, but Parliament is keen to bring in legislation across the EU before the year is out. Not that the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair think there’s a problem to solve: both airlines have insisted that their advertising is completely honest and transparent – despite some regulatory rulings to the contrary, and despite Ryanair being currently involved in a battle with the Danish consumer ombudsman over claims that it misled passengers (which it furiously denies, natch).
Given that Ryanair has a habit of getting into regulatory scraps about its advertising – the Irish operator has spent almost as much time rowing with the Advertising Standards Authority as it has flying planes this year (although not always about misleading fares – one time it was about inappropriate pictures of schoolgirls) – we immediately wondered how combative CEO Michael O’Leary would react to this latest crackdown. Sure enough, we found a press release on Ryanair’s website entitled: ‘Ryanair Condemns European Parliament Decision’ – but it turns out they were condemning a different decision, not this one. It must be exhausting trying to argue with so many people at once… (Though never fear – a spokesman was soon telling the Times that today’s measure was ‘rubbish’)
Still, it looks like the days of 99p ‘flights’ to the continent may be a thing of the past. Another thing for us all to be gloomy about...