The Competition Authority (AGCM) recently fined low-cost air carrier Ryanair €550,000 for unfair practices, following an investigation opened in June 2014. The investigation arose from complaints by passengers and consumer associations over major difficulties and exorbitant costs when trying to contact Ryanair regarding the fulfilment of contracts.

The concerned practices involved customer services handled through a charged call centre facility, including:

  • requests for boarding assistance for passengers with reduced mobility;
  • substitute flight bookings where flight schedules had changed;
  • reservation changes made before flights; and
  • requests for reimbursement of incorrect charges levied at the time of reservation or issuance of the flight invoice (aside from credit bonuses given by the airline).

The AGCM held that it was "unfair and unreasonably expensive" to force customers to contact an overpriced call centre to obtain these services. The AGCM highlighted that Ryanair offered no actual alternative means of assistance to customers aside from the call centre. In particular, it noted that – despite Ryanair's arguments – the online form and online chat services on its website did not constitute actual alternative means of assistance, given that:

  • the online form function was a default form (offering limited characters) primarily for informative inquiries and the carrier often replied to these several days later, frequently directing customers to the general conditions of carriage via an auto-reply message or inviting them to contact the call centre; and
  • the online chat function was a service for general inquiries only and did not allow customers to change their bookings or pay for tickets.

The AGCM evaluated Ryanair's practices as even more aggressive in light of:

  • the call centre's high cost per minute, which was charged even during the waiting period; and
  • the call centre's time restrictions, which required customers to unlock their fixed phone line before the call (inducing them to call from a mobile phone and consequently subjecting them to even higher costs).

For further information on this topic please contact Laura Pierallini at Studio Legale Pierallini e Associati by telephone (+39 06 88 41 713) or email ([email protected]). The Studio Legale Pierallini e Associati website can be accessed at www.studiopierallini.it.