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Passenger at El Prat airport, Barcelona with a carry-on suitcase. Reuters
Ryanair, Volotea, Vueling and easyJet hit with 150-million-euro fine in Spain for carry-on luggage and other extra charges
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Ryanair, Volotea, Vueling and easyJet hit with 150-million-euro fine in Spain for carry-on luggage and other extra charges

The four operators will appeal the ruling, the largest penalty in the history of low-cost airlines, and warned that flight ticket prices will climb if they lose the case

Edurne Martínez

Madrid

Friday, 31 May 2024, 11:28

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There has been a heavy blow for several low-cost airlines operating in Spain. The country's Ministry of Consumer Affairs has hit four low-cost carriers with a fine of 150 million euros for charging passengers for carry-on luggage and requiring them to print their ticket, according to industry sources.

The four operators (Ryanair, Volotea, Vueling, and easyJet) also face the largest penalty in the history of low-cost airlines for charging an extra fee for carry-on baggage, charging for seat selection when travelling with dependents (such as parents with children), for lack of contractual transparency and for prohibiting cash payments.

This process began in 2023 from the office of the General-Directorate of Consumer Affairs, which analysed what it deemed "abusive practices" following complaints from consumer associations such as Facua. A proposal for sanctions was then submitted to the four airlines, who responded by submitting responses to the allegations, and following this stage, they have now received a fine of 150 million euros, although the airlines insist that the case is not closed and there is room for appeal.

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50 million

passengers a year travel without a suitcase in the cabin, only with a small piece of hand luggage under the seat, according to ALA estimates

The airlines have vehemently rejected the sanction and, in a statement issued by the airline association (ALA), explained that it goes against European regulations. Specifically, it goes against the principle of freedom to set prices and "constitutes interference in tariff setting". In the statement, it clarified that all airlines include free carry-on baggage stowed under the seat, but Consumer Affairs wants to force them to include a cabin bag that "penalises" passengers who only want to pay for the services they need.

According to ALA's calculations, 50 million passengers who currently only travel with carry-on baggage put under the seat will have to pay "more" for their ticket. The sector claims that fares will "rise" if they can no longer offer the basic option as before. "It is nonsense for Consumer Affairs to unilaterally prohibit charging, ignoring the opinion of the European Commission," ALA stated.

In addition, industry sources claim that if the airlines are forced to pay the fine, Spain would lose competitiveness compared to other countries that do not impose this regulation and can therefore offer cheaper airfares. According to ALA, this would affect economic activity, employment, connectivity, and investment attraction in the country.

'Urgent' change of behaviour

However, Asufin, the financial user association, "welcomes" the "historic sanction" imposed by Consumer Affairs on these four airlines: "We hope it serves as an effective brake on the impunity with which these companies disregarded consumer rights to their customers," it stated.

The association has an ongoing class-action lawsuit against Volotea, which is currently in the Supreme Court, for "abusive fares" due to a clause that allows the airline to modify the contract once formalised. "We consider that an urgent change of behaviour by these companies is necessary, as we demand from financial entities. We cannot tolerate a systematic violation of consumer rights through systematic practices that constitute outright abuse, through clauses that have no legal support," they say.

Is the obligation to pay for carry-on luggage over?

The airlines point out that, despite the government's fine, no decision has yet been made at the judicial level because the proceedings are still ongoing, and there is the possibility of an appeal. ALA reaffirmed that their practices remain "completely legal" and emphasises that European legislation "recognises the freedom of airlines to set their fares."

According to its statement, this initiative "directly clashes with the recent initiative of the European Commission," which advocates for airlines to set common or standard carry-on baggage allowances, "an initiative in which all airlines are already collaborating, and which clearly specifies that fares with different additional services developed in recent years have brought advantages and more options for passengers," it stated.

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