BRUSSELS Jan 23 An adviser to Europe's top
court has backed a key element of budget airlines' business
model, saying extra charges levied by Spanish carrier Vueling
for checking in baggage are in line with European Union rules.
Budget airlines generate a hefty chunk of their revenues
from supplementary fees related to check-in, luggage and
boarding passes, which for some carriers could be as much as
two-fifths of their turnover.
Ultra low-cost U.S. carrier Spirit Airlines, for
example, makes around 40 percent of its revenue from extra costs
like bag fees and seat selection, and its CFO Ted Christie told
a conference in Dublin this week he would like to see more.
"We try not to put a ceiling on it, but we would love to get
at least parity between ticket and non-ticket," Christie said.
The non-binding opinion from Yves Bot, an advocate general
at the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice, came in a case
involving International Airlines Group's low-cost
Spanish unit Vueling.
Judges, who typically follow the advisers' recommendations
in the majority of cases, will rule in the coming months.
Vueling found itself in a Spanish court after a passenger
complained about a 40-euro surcharge levied by the company for
checking in two pieces of baggage online. It was later fined
3,000 euros by a Spanish consumer body.
A Spanish court subsequently sought guidance from the ECJ as
to whether Spanish laws which ban baggage check-in charges
comply with EU rules.
Bot said they did not.
"The Spanish legislation which prohibits air carriers from
charging for checking-in passengers' baggage in the form of an
optional price supplement is incompatible with EU law," he wrote
in his opinion.
But he said airlines needed to be clear about the various
charges that passengers may have to pay.
"Air carriers must communicate in a clear, transparent and
unambiguous way, at the start of the booking process undertaken
by the customer, the detailed rules for pricing relating to
checking-in of baggage and allow the customer to accept or
refuse the service in question on an opt-in basis," Bot said.