MADRID – The Spanish Ministry of Consumer Affairs has launched an investigation into seven national low-cost airlines over alleged irregularities in their hand luggage and seat allocation policies.
These companies risk fines that can amount to four to six times their ill-gotten gains, or up to 4% of their turnover. The investigation is being carried out by the Inspection and Sanctions Procedure Sub-Directorate and specifically focuses on practices where passengers have to pay additional costs for carrying hand luggage on board or for selecting a specific seat, even in the case of minors or dependents.
In recent years, the number of airlines charging an additional fee for carrying hand luggage has grown steadily: only a bag or backpack with a capacity of approximately 30 litres can be taken on board for free.
Extras charge for usually “necessary” services
Moreover, it is a thorn in the side of the ministry that the companies are charging “extras” for services generally considered “necessary and essential” while travelling, the press release said.
Practices potentially “misleading or unfair”
Consequently, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is using its new powers to act against large-scale fraud. It is therefore now investigating whether such commercial practices by low-cost airlines could be considered “misleading or unfair” and violate consumer law.
“Privileged position” on online comparison websites
In addition, the officials are investigating whether airlines may have a “privileged position” on online flight search engines and comparison websites through price segmentation. After all, there they show prices that are “much lower” than what the consumer actually pays in the transaction.
Millions of passengers
According to the ministry, the investigated airlines – no names have been named – collectively have a market share of more than 30%, both within and outside Europe. This means they influence the bookings of millions of passengers.
The investigated behaviours are considered to be suspected serious violations that can be fined with amounts ranging from €10,000 to €100,000. However, these fines can be increased to four to six times the ill-gotten gains, or up to 4% of turnover, if these practices are widely observed within the European Union.
Also read: Vueling changes rules on hand luggage