In recent years the Competition Authority has fined several airlines for imposing limits on round-trip tickets which force passengers to take flights in the order listed on the original ticket subject to loss, fare increases or denial of boarding on the next flight depending on the type of fare originally purchased (ie, the so-called 'no-show rule').

According to the Competition Authority, the no-show rule is an unfair commercial practice as passengers are:

  • not allowed to take the return flight or the next flight of a multiple-journey ticket if they fail to show for an outward flight or the first segment of a multiple journey; or
  • subject to fare increases or surcharges to confirm the same.

The main issues that the Competition Authority has raised are:

  • the lack of information for consumers regarding limitations on the use of tickets in the case of non-use of part of a round-trip or multiple-journey ticket, which results in the automatic cancellation of the return ticket; and
  • the lack of specific procedure allowing consumers to notify the airline of their intention to use the return ticket or undertake subsequent flights of a multiple-journey ticket, even though they did not take the outward flight.

The issues above were examined by the Council of State in its September 30 2016 ruling (4048), which confirmed the Competition Authority's decision.

According to the Council of State, the no-show rule is lawful. However, to protect consumer rights, the rule must resolve said issues to strike a balance between the commercial needs of airlines and consumer rights.

Airlines have implemented remedies to address the no-show rule and any relevant issues considered to be in breach of the Consumer Code, as envisaged by the Competition Authority.

Remedies include creating a system that allows passengers who have missed or were unable to take their first flight for any reason, but who would like to take their return flight or additional flights as originally booked, to contact the relevant airline within a fixed timeframe (usually 24 hours) from the scheduled departure time of the first flight via a dedicated free hotline or email address.

The Council of State decision confirms the increased focus on consumer rights without neglecting the commercial needs of airlines and the European principle of tariff freedom in the aviation sector.

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 (l.pierallini@pierallini.it). The Studio Legale Pierallini e Associati website can be accessed at www.studiopierallini.it.

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