Ripped off before take off

Rosser4x3.jpgLabour transport spokesperson Richard Rosser on why passengers should get proper information on 'budget' airlines add on pricing

Throughout the ongoing parliamentary passage of the Civil Aviation Bill, Labour has been keen to press Ministers on issues relating to passenger welfare. And today in the Lords, I am arguing that passengers should be better informed of all hidden charges imposed on them by airlines.

The variety of different fares for the same journey by train and the often confusing conditions attached to those fares has often been the subject of adverse comment in the media. Now we find that the airline industry is doing the same, with unwary travellers running the risk of being ripped off.

At the same time, the issue of ‘add on’ charges when travelling by air has become increasingly contentious. Not least because some of the extras, on top of the fare quoted, are not always made as clear as they could be. So what may seem to be a relatively cheap budget airline flight may prove to be the exact opposite, and in some circumstances cost even more than travelling by a mainstream operator.

A survey published in May showed that one well known budget airline’s high season rate for a 20 kilo bag to go in the hold of the airplane was £70 return; and if you did not book online but turned up with your bag the fee was £130 each way. Meanwhile add on charges revealed it could cost as much as £110 to change the name on a ticket, and £120 if your bag weighed three kilos over the limit. The survey also exposed the wide range of charges relating to seat reservations and credit card fees. And determining all such costs is not a straightforward or easy business, since some airline charge flat rate fees whilst others levy charges based on the total cost of the flight.

The Bill, currently at Committee stage in the Lords, requires the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to publish such information as it considers appropriate to allow users of air transport services to compare costs. Labour is looking for an additional specific requirement to publish advice to allow people to compare the full costs of travel, including all relevant surcharges that users are expected to pay.

The purpose of our amendment is not to pass judgement on the apparent proliferation of add on charges. But instead, we seek to give those travelling by air the clarity and transparency they need to make accurate comparisons of the full cost of travel – and to not get caught out. Air travellers need to know the CAA is on their side as an impartial and objective body.

Lord Richard Rosser is a member of Labour’s Transport team in the House of Lords

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