November 12, 2007 / 11:02 PM / 12 years ago

Europe airlines could be forced to close Web sites

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Over half of Europe’s airlines including Ryanair could be forced to close their Web sites next year if they fail to remedy problems shown by the EU consumer affairs watchdog in a probe carried out in September.

A passenger jet belonging to Irish discount airline Ryanair takes off at Charleroi airport in southern Belgium, February 2, 2004. Over half of Europe's airlines including Ryanair <RYA.I> could be forced to close their Web sites next year if they fail to remedy problems shown by the EU consumer affairs watchdog in a probe carried out in September. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The results of the investigation to be published on Wednesday and obtained by Reuters says “over 50 percent of all Web sites showed irregularities, in particular relating to price indications, contract terms and clarity of proposed conditions.”

“Companies will be contacted by authorities and asked to provide clarification or change their practices in four months. Those who fail to do so could face legal action leading to fines or closure of their Web sites,” the report says.

The results do not identify any airlines in particular, but the European Union’s Executive Commission intends to “publish a list of companies concerned” in four months’ time.

Last month, Spain’s consumer rights watchdog said it had found misleading information in seven of 12 airline ticket Web sites including Ryanair — Europe’s biggest low-cost airline.

The Spanish authorities also found faults with Spanish carriers Vueling, Iberia and Spainair.

“Ryanair and those other companies in the Spanish investigation are on our radar,” a European Commission source told Reuters.

The Brussels investigation, known as a “consumer sweep,” focused on unfair pricing, hidden charges and terms and conditions not translated properly. The sweep was carried out with the help of 15 EU national authorities and Norway.

Those airlines at fault were found guilty of practices including the following:

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

- Offers promising tickets for free or at a low price, but such tickets are unavailable when the consumer wants to buy them

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

- General terms of sales are not provided in the language version used by the consumer during the booking procedure - 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.

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.

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