Airlines face OFT action if flight prices mislead

The Office of Fair Trading has vowed to bring enforcement proceedings against airlines and travel companies that fail to include all fixed non-optional costs in the basic advertised prices of their flights and holidays.

In February the OFT issued a warning and set a deadline for compliance. It expired last Thursday. Non-optional charges include government taxes, fuel supplements, security and airport charges and can add substantially to the basic cost of a ticket.

The OFT said last week that most airlines it has contacted have agreed to review their pricing practices. Some have agreed to change their pricing to make it more transparent. The OFT is now reviewing adverts and websites to ensure that compliance is complete.

The OFT has identified but not named a minority of airlines that have failed to comply. It intends to bring enforcement proceedings against these airlines.

Meanwhile, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has issued a reminder to its members that its Code of Conduct requires them to include all fixed non-optional costs, inclduing taxes, in the basic advertised prices of their holidays.

ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said last week: "The days of the 1p flight have now gone, but in reality they were never here."

Earlier this month the Air Transport Users' Council (AUC) issued a plea for pricing transparency. AUC research in 2005 suggested that only 43% of travellers who booked flights online were aware that diffferent airlines often charged different levels of taxes, fees and charges for the same route. Follow-up research last month found that many airlines, particularly budget carriers, continued to separate taxes, fees and charges from the main fare.

The OFT is empowered by the Enterprise Act 2002 to obtain court orders against traders that breach a range of consumer legislation including laws on misleading advertising and misleading pricing.

A DTI Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications states that when advertising holiday and travel prices, any non-optional extra charges which are for fixed amounts should be included in the basic price and not shown as additions, unless they are only payable by some consumers. Contravention of the Code does not of itself give rise to any civil or criminal liability but evidence of breaches of the Code can be used to support a prosecution for the offence of giving a misleading price indication, contrary to the Consumer Protection Act 1987.