In April, Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, became the first airline to stop charging debit card fees to customers booking flights following an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) request for change.
The OFT started the process some 12 months ago and in February this year put significant pressure on airlines to officially undertake to remove debit card charges by early summer.
Most other airlines followed Flybe’s lead and complied with the request soon after, ceasing this charging practice between Spring and Summer. However, there are some very obvious exceptions:
• Aer Lingus signed undertakings to the OFT that they would not charge an additional debit card fee from 1st October. Not only did they appear to need 7 months to make the change on their website, but as of the 8th October it continues to charge customers an additional £6 per one way sector.
• Equally Easyjet was given until December by the OFT to make the change, some 10 months after the undertakings were intended to be signed.
Put into context, a consumer can now go to one of the non-complying airline websites and see a fare that is, say, £6 cheaper than Flybe’s on a particular route where in competition with Flybe, without realising that the fare doesn’t yet include a £9 ‘admin fee’ for paying with a debit card.
Similarly, consumers visiting certain flight comparison sites can also receive a false impression of the lowest possible fares as they will not include such payment charge add-ons and are therefore not a fair comparison.
Andrew Strong, Flybe UK MD says: “It’s a total shambles. Some of Europe’s largest airlines, with the most powerful IT departments, are being allowed to continue to blatantly abuse the process. Consumers are being duped into thinking that there is some sort of level playing field when comparing ticket prices. Media reports that airlines have become ‘transparent’ in their ticket pricing are false. They ignore the fact that several leading airlines are still continuing to charge for debit card payments.”
Flybe has made its views known to the OFT that this unacceptable situation is not in the interest of Fair Trading and has also shared the information with Which?, who are equally concerned by the current situation and the impact it has on the lack of clarity for consumers.