Air passengers stung on debit card charges
A Westcountry airline has attacked a Government watchdog for failing to stop carriers charging customers for using debit cards.
Flybe has accused the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) of a "blatant disregard" of its policy to scrap the charges, which the Exeter-based carrier implemented in April.
The company claims it has been put at a competitive disadvantage compared to some rival airlines, who it says have yet to comply with the request from the OFT for transparent pricing.
Andrew Strong, managing director of Flybe UK, described the situation as "a total shambles" and claimed customers were being "duped" into believing ticket pricing has become transparent.
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"Some of Europe's largest airlines with the most powerful IT departments are being allowed to continue to blatantly abuse the process," he added.
"Consumers are being duped into thinking that there is some sort of level playing field when comparing ticket prices."
Overcharging was highlighted by consumer watchdog Which? in a "super complaint" to the OFT. The consumer group revealed how some budget airlines charge a fee per passenger and per leg of the journey, when only one card transaction is made.
Which? said airlines were charging as much as £40 in booking fees for a family of four paying by card, when the debit card processing cost would be around 20p and a credit card no more than 2% of the total cost.
Flybe have now dropped the debit card payment charge – but many others have not.
The OFT estimated that debit and credit card surcharging in the airlines sector cost consumers £300 million a year.
The Government says it plans legislation to clamp down on "excessive" charging via payment cards.
In February this year the OFT put significant pressure on airlines to officially undertake to remove debit card charges by early summer. And in July, following enforcement action, it announced that 12 airlines had agreed to include debit card surcharges in the headline price rather than surprise consumers at the end of the booking process.
Flybe says most other airlines complied but claims at least one rival company continues to impose a charge while another has been given an extension to meet the OFT demands.
The OFT claimed its enforcement action was forcing all the targeted airlines to advertise charges but said "some airlines" showed they needed longer to make the changes.
"We published the commitments given to us in July including details about which airlines had agreed a later deadline for compliance," a spokesman added
"We will continue to monitor changes made by the airlines and will consider taking further action if businesses do not address our concerns.
"In the meantime, passengers should continue to ensure they compare like with like."