Sunday, 16 October 2011

Low cost? Yeah, right!

(c) Alberto Bullrich 2011
SPAIN The problem is not only in Spain. In fact, you've been caught out by 'extras' at least a couple of times, haven't you? But since this site is about Spain, we concentrate on here. A recent survey came up with the fact that 34% of those who had some beef about airlines and asked for help from a consumer organization, had a problem with Ryanair. Surprise, surprise. Without taking into account last December's air traffic controllers strike, the other two 'problem airlines' were Vueling (24%) and Iberia (19%). According to FACUA, one of several consumer organizations but probably the loudest, the vast majority of airlines operating in Spain commit irregularities (nice word for fraud?) selling tickets. In fact 24 out of 37 airlines scrutinized recently by FACUA -that's seven out of ten- advertise prices that are cheaper than the passenger will eventually pay for. Among the main complaints on 'abuse and fraud' is>>>
the airlines' denying payment of between €125 to €600 compensation and/or assistance with food, drink and accommodation in cases of cancellations or long delays. This is established in European law, says FACUA, but the airlines neglect to inform passengers of these rights even though they are obliged to do so by law. In many cases they also refuse to pay compensation for damage arising from cancellations or delays, such as missing connections.

There are also airlines that include by default one or more services that are -or should be- optional. Another practice that flouts European regulations. Basically this applies to the choice of seat, additional insurance or meals. The report says that there are even some airlines that 'slip in' a 'donation to charity'

Extras piling up
Over the last few years, 'extras' have been accumulating. What in the beginning were only airport taxes have been growing. Here are some examples:

  • Payment method: charges are made even when there is no alternative but to pay by credit or debit card. Most low cost flights are booked online, when the use of a card is mandatory. (Have you ever tried to pay cash at the check-in counter? Try it, and have fun watching their faces. And incidentally, they are obliged to take legal tender from one person to another, though they'll never admit to it.)
  • Printing the boarding pass: Ryanair has been known to charge up to €40 to print a boarding pass at the counter. However, the courts have recently declared the practice, included in the contract, as abusive.
  • Phone calls: Some airlines make money when a passenger calls them with enquiries or complaints. Charges are made -usually through a 902 number- that can cost €0.87 per minute from a landline and €1.22 from a mobile. That adds up, especially when they pipe that dreadful muzak into your ear for a long while. (See What's a 902 number?)
  • Communications in English: Other airlines require their clients to communicate with them in English. While this may not be a problem to many of our readers, consider the plight of most of the rest of the world, particularly when the company communicates only in that language - usually, say some disgruntled passengers, to tell you they are not going to pay.
  • Seat booking: A 'commission' or 'supplement' is often charged for reserving a seat on the flight.
  • Fuel charge: there is no justification for this charge, except in the cases described below.
  • First bag charges: This can often amount to €15 - never mind if you have a second bag.
  • Grants and subsidies: most low cost airlines crossing the Spanish skies have learned to live with subsidies from regional, provincial and even local government grants. The excuse is that being allowed to use local facilities, they will bring in planeloads of tourists - in return for considerable grants.
Some extra charges are legal
According to current Spanish and European legislation, extra charges can only be applied to the following:
  • Optional service: When the passenger chooses freely and is advised of the charge (instead of it being applied by default, as above), such as additional insurance or extra baggage.
  • Fuel or other taxes: These may be applied up to 21 days before the flight date only when it is in combination with other flights or connections, sold through a travel agency, and where the price was established previously by contract or in advertising.

1 comment:

PROSPERO said...

Spare a thought for Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of 'Ryanair'. (received by e-mail)

Arriving in a hotel in Dublin, he went to the bar and asked for a pint of draught Guinness. The barman nodded and said, "That will be one Euro please, Mr. O’Leary."

Somewhat taken aback, O'Leary replied, "That's very cheap," and handed over his money. "Well, we try to stay ahead of the competition", said the barman. "But you don't seem to have a glass, so you'll need one of ours. That will be another 3 euro."
O'Leary grimaced, but paid up. He took his drink and walked towards a seat. "Oh, so you want to sit down?" said the barman. "That's another 2 euro. - Oh, and actually, I see that you didn't pre-book the seat, so in fact it will be another 4 euro."
O'Leary swore to himself, but paid up. "I see that you want to bring that laptop with you" added the barman. "And since that wasn't pre-booked either, that will be another 3 euro."
O'Leary was so pissed off that he walked back to the bar, slammed his drink on the counter, and yelled, "This is a f***ing rip-off, I want to speak to the manager".
"You can only contact him by email", said the barman. "And by the way, that will be 2 euro for use of the counter. And unless you are going to wash the glass yourself, that will be another 3 euro. And it would be 3 euro to use the washroom. Make sure you tidy up all the area before you leave."