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Budget airlines face crackdown on charging for hand luggage

Budget airlines face crackdown on charging for hand luggage
Budget airlines face crackdown on charging for hand luggage


Budget airlines in the EU are facing a crackdown on hand luggage fees after a court issued €150 million (£128 million) in fines over the practice.

Four airlines have been penalised by Spain for “abusive practices” towards their passengers, including charging extra for carry-on baggage and guaranteeing seats next to family and friends.

Ryanair, EasyJet and Spain’s Vueling and Volotea were all fined by the country’s consumer rights ministry yesterday.

The fines will be seen as a challenge to budget airlines’ business models, which hinge on charging rock-bottom fees for tickets and adding supplements for things such as larger carry-on bags.

Flag-carrier airlines tend to include these in their fares, arguing their generally higher prices are simpler for consumers to understand.

The ruling has caused a wave of potential lawsuits across the bloc that could result in add-on fees being banned on EU-registered airlines.

Test Achats, a Belgian consumer campaign group, said on Friday that it had filed a complaint with the country’s authorities “against several airlines which charge extra prices for reasonably sized hand luggage”.

“This prevents passengers from easily comparing prices,” said a spokesman, “because it is only at the end of the process that the passenger sees the real price they will have to pay for their trip.”

The four airlines can appeal against the decision, first with the ministry and later in the Spanish courts.

Spanish consumer groups welcomed the fines, with Rubén Sánchez, general secretary of the FACUA consumer association, saying passengers should start trying to claim back money they spent on charges now deemed to be abusive.

A spokesman for the European Consumer Association (ECA) hailed the Spanish ruling as a “strong signal”.

“Airlines’ unfair policies on carry-on hand luggage need to stop. Too often, consumers arrive at the airport only to be told they have to pay extra for hand luggage or because their bags don’t conform,” said the ECA.

Ryanair was also fined for charging €20 for printing boarding cards for passengers, which Spanish authorities deemed to be an unreasonable fee.

An airline trade body hit back against the fines, saying EU law allowed them to set their own prices and fees.

Javier Gándara, chairman of Spain’s airline association, said that the four companies were preparing appeals against the fines, branding the penalties “disproportionate”.

Mr Gándara said that all airlines allowed passengers to carry a small item of hand baggage aboard, adding that EU law let them charge a supplement for suitcases over a certain size.

“In our country, some 50 million passengers a year travel without carrying a trolley suitcase, and they will be the most affected by this prohibition as they will have to start paying for a service they do not need,” he said.

Despite the EU ruling, British holidaymakers may not see immediate price drops on flights to the Costa del Sol.

Britain stopped short of banning similar excess baggage fees this month, despite Rishi Sunak commissioning a formal review into extra charges a year ago.

UK-registered airlines will still be allowed to charge extra for hand luggage or for booking a seat next to loved ones under the new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act.

However, the act outlaws the hiding of add-on fees until the online check-out stage of buying a ticket, as many airlines currently do.

So-called drip pricing – advertising a fare, but then requiring passengers to pay extra for items or services offered as standard in the past – was described by Spanish officials as “an unfair commercial practice that hinders the comparability of offers and the decision-making of consumers, causing them significant economic damage”.

Many airlines charge passengers for cabin luggage despite a 2014 EU court ruling saying hand baggage of a “reasonable” size and weight is an essential element of travel and should not generate additional charges.


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