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FACTBOX-EU executive warns airlines over Web sites

(Reuters) - Over 200 European Web sites selling airline tickets, including many run by leading airlines, were warned by the European Commission on Wednesday that they face being shut down unless they stop misleading consumers.

Below are some facts about the investigation, called a “sweep”, into the Web sites:

When was the probe carried out and by whom?

From September 24 to 28, authorities from 15 EU states and Norway investigated 446 Web sites.

What about the other 12 EU states?

According to the Commission, some countries including Britain, Germany, Ireland and Poland had already carried out their own “sweeps” which they submitted to Brussels before September.

Other countries have told the Commission they will submit their data before the end of the year. A compilation of results from all 27 member states will be published in January.

What are the offences?

- The price of a ticket is first indicated without airport taxes and additional fees

- Tickets are promised for free or at a low price, but are unavailable when the consumer wants to buy them

- Tick boxes for insurance or additional services are marked “yes” by default, trapping the consumer into buying unwanted items or being included on spam mailing lists

- General terms of sale are not provided in the language version used by the consumer during booking -- or not available at all in any language

- No information is given about the rights and procedures of cancellation, transferability and ability to change dates.

Who were the offenders?

Belgium had the worst number of incidents, with 46 of 48 Web sites investigated found to be at fault. Of the 20 Web sites probed in Austria, none was found to break EU consumer rules. Greece and Cyprus also found no offenders during their probes.

What are the punishments?

Possible measures include ordering a company to change or cease a prevailing practice, imposing fines, or closing Web sites. National enforcement bodies are obliged to take measures -- repeatedly if needed -- until the infringement has ceased.

If a national authority fails to act, the European Commission could drag the country to the European Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court.

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