Thursday, 15 January 2015

Towards even more transparent air fares - CJEU in C-573/13 (Air Berlin)

15 January 2015: CJEU judgment in case C-573/13 (Air Berlin)

The Court of Justice decided today in another case on price transparency of air fares that originated in Germany. Again, provisions of the Regulation 1008/2008 on common rules for the operation of air services in the Community have been addresses (previously a subject of a judgment in the ebookers.com and Vueling Airlines cases).

The online selling practices of the airline Air Berlin were at issue here. When consumers open a website of this airline they may select their flight destination and a date and then are re-directed to a website showing all possible flight connections fulfilling their requirements in a table. The computerised system automatically pre-selects the cheapest flight connection for the consumer and for that option indicates the air fare, separately surcharges, as well as the total flight price, incl. the service charge. If the consumer selects a different option, then the prices are adjusted to reflect prices of that connection. However, only the final price of the selected flight is showed at any given time.

German consumer organisations questioned this practice on two grounds: 1. they claimed that the Regulation obliges the airlines to indicate the full price for air services when the prices of air services are shown for the first time; 2. they claimed that the Regulation obliges airlines to indicated full price for air services for all possible connections and not only for the connection selected by a consumer.

The CJEU agreed with this interpretation in its judgment today. Article 23 of the Regulation indicates that the final price to be paid must be showed to the consumer "at all times", without a distinction between the moment when the price is indicated for the first time, when the consumer selects a particular flight or when the contract is concluded. (Par. 25) This reasoning is supported by the aim of the Regulation to enable effective price comparison to consumers. (Par. 34)

In practice this should mean that when we are in the future booking flight tickets online we should no longer have to click between different connections offered by the airline to see how the final price would change if we decided to take a different flight than the one recommended by the airline or selected by us (see the picture). Final prices for each and every connection change should be automatically listed from the start, next to that connection. Showing differences among the air fares is insufficient.

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